A mental health perspective on marriage equality
14 Sep 2017
Dr Richard Schweizer from One Door gives a mental health perspective on marriage equality for young people and the LGBTQI+ community.
Life can be difficult for any teenager. Changes to your body, your hormones, your relationships with friends and family, wanting to fit in, and a developing sexuality can all leave you off-balance sometimes. Sometimes it can leave you reeling. There is not always enough support, or the right kind of support, or you may not feel comfortable seeking help. And all these issues are magnified if you are gay or lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or intersex.
Now I must admit that I do not speak from personal experience of being part of the sexual ‘other’, but I have friends who have been through these years and I can see evidence of trouble faced by young LGBTQI people around me.
It has been estimated by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, that young LGBTQI people report experiencing verbal homophobic abuse (61 per cent), physical homophobic abuse (18 per cent) and other types of homophobia (9 per cent), including cyber-bullying, graffiti, social exclusion and humiliation.
Just recently I saw a news program about a piece of graffiti that had appeared in the inner west of Sydney. “Bash a Gay Today”.
This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable. It is incendiary, insensitive and likely to cause real psychological harm to members of the LGBTQI community and, especially, to young people experiencing a developing sexuality.
The result of this kind of societal reaction often has a strong mental health dimension. Young people exploring their sexuality may be confused by the signals sent by a society that has not fully accepted LGBTQI people. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are three times more likely to experience depression compared to the broader population. LGBTQI people are at a greater risk of suicide (and this observation is magnified by the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of young people around us).
I also believe that there is a great risk in the current climate of debate surrounding the postal survey on gay marriage that young LGBTQI people may be at risk of further mental health challenges.
To have their sexuality – such an important part of theirs and our identity – publicly questioned and diminished and pathologised cannot help but leave a hurt psyche. For the children of gay and lesbian couples described as “gaybies”, or told that they do not have the prerequisites in their life for their full and health development, must be terribly hurtful. To be told by some that they must undergo “conversion therapy” must leave deep scars.
As a mental health advocate surveying this field my heart goes out to the young LGBTQI people and the challenges many of them are going through. One can only hope that, once the survey is done and, I hope, gay and lesbian marriage is legalised, these vulnerable people can find the space to develop their sexualities comfortably and openly, without vilification and without discrimination.
If you are someone needing help with these issues - contact One Door's Headspace Campbelltown office for support Ph: 02 4627 9089