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Australia's Marriage Debate Inflicting Serious Psychological Harm On LGBTQ

Mental health organisations are pleading with the government to show more concern for the negative impact from the postal survey.

18/10/2017 09:33 SAST | Updated 18/10/2017 09:33 SAST
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LGBTQ people are between three and fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual Australians.

CANBERRA -- An "unprecedented" meeting of mental health organisations has pleaded with federal politicians to take more notice of the "largely negative debate" around the same sex marriage postal survey, and the psychological costs on the LGBTQ community.

The CEOs of Black Dog Institute, Headspace, ReachOut, Brain and Mind Centre at University of Sydney and Orygen's National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health held a session at Parliament House on Wednesday, uniting in support of marriage equality and launching a campaign titled 'Mind The Facts' to show the negative effects of discrimination on the LGBTQ community.

"We've come together to point people to the facts, the damage that has been done by this largely negative debate, and the positive facts and outcomes that can be achieved if we stand up to vote against discrimination and for equality," said Jason Trethowan of Headspace.

"Young LGBTQ people across Australia have suffered discrimination at the hands of inequality and their mental wellbeing has been a direct cost."

LGBTQ people are between three and fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual Australians, one in six young LGBTQ people have attempted suicide, and one in three have self harmed. Several Australian medical bodies have supported marriage equality on mental health grounds and warned of the negative effects associated with the postal survey, while mental health organisations have experienced upticks in demand for services due to the ongoing debate, as well as claiming up to 3,000 high school suicide attempts a year could be averted by a 'yes vote'.

Wednesday's event in Canberra was opened with speeches from pro-equality MPs including Labor's Terri Butler and Liberal Senator Dean Smith. The senator said he had heard of stories about gay Australians experiencing "irritability, sleeplessness" and "feeling under pressure".

"The evidence to me is very clear that for some LGBTI Australians, this is not the easiest experience. We hope it will be filled with triumph on the 15th of November [when the postal survey results will be announced], but that's not to say it's not painful," Smith said.

"A prudent approach is to be conscious and aware that not everyone is experiencing joy and triumph at the moment, and that is the most powerful lesson for government. A prudent approach is to be considerate and have a generous heart."

Professor Helen Christensen, director of the Black Dog Institute, cited research that showed LGBTQ suicide rates had dropped in areas after same sex marriage was legalised. Black Dog was one of the organisations involved in the September report claiming 3,000 youth suicide attempts could be avoided each year, citing figures that showed legalising same-sex marriage in the U.S. saw a seven percent relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide.

"The public should have knowledge about the research evidence about LGBTQ communities, mental health and discrimination. Part of my role today is to draw the attention of the public and politicians to the fact that the evidence is really strong, that discrimination is bad for the mental health of anyone, and that marginalisation also causes this," Christensen told HuffPost Australia at the event.

"We have a lot of evidence about mental health in LGBTQ communities and it is worse than that of non-LGBTQ communities. If we do change policy, we can actually improve the mental health of the community including these groups we're talking about. If you base it on the research evidence we already have, that will happen."

Christensen also poured scorn on recent rhetoric from Coalition senators Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie that the mental health aspects should not be used in the marriage debate. Canavan claimed using such statistics around suicide was "blackmail" while McKenzie also criticised the use of such figures.

"I would hate to think that somebody is using suicide, particularly about young men and women, to further the cause of either side of this debate," McKenzie said in a Sky News interview last week.

"And I don't think we should be politicising somebody who is going through that trauma."

Christensen said the politicians were incorrect.

"Blackmail, that's completely the wrong way of looking at it. There are many gay and lesbian people who are completely mentally healthy, the majority, but there's also a greater proportion who do have mental health problems who are in these communities. The key thing is the discrimination. If you don't have discrimination, you wont get that change in levels or prevalence of these problems," she said.

"It's not blackmail, it's stating that it's obvious, that this is the relationship and this is whats happening."

"More people are coming forward because they are stressed. It's to be welcomed. We dont want people who feel discrimination or stressed to not be seeking help."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.