Image Credit: Accidentally Alex A "Yes" campaign sign hanging in Elwood, Melbourne during the same-sex marriage postal survey
Researchers from the University Of Sydney have found what LGBT Australians already know – the hate-filled 2017 marriage equality postal survey debate caused serious psychological harm to the LGBT community, increasing our levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
Researchers examined the mental health of same-sex attracted Australians during the postal survey and found that “more frequent exposure to negative media messages about same‐sex marriage was associated with greater psychological distress.”
The study - Minority stress, social support, and the mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Australians during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey - was headed up by Phd candidate Stefano Verrelli.
Researchers gave 1,305 same-sex attracted adults an online survey that measured their exposure to negative and positive media messages about same‐sex marriage during the postal survey and their levels of depression, anxiety and stress. It also measured participants personal social supports.
The researchers found that regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status, increased exposure to “no” campaign messages was related to poorer mental health, including higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
Participants were asked if they believed their immediate social circles voted “yes” or “no” for same-sex marriage. Those participants who felt supported by their family, friends and associates had better mental health outcomes than those who thought people in their social circle voted “no” to marriage equality.
Researchers found that it was their social supports, including access to mental health services, that shielded people from some of the harm inflicted by the “no” campaign.
When looking at how exposure to the “yes” campaign impacted on participants mental health, the researchers found that these positive messages were most beneficial to those with limited social supports.
Image Credit: Accidentally Alex One of the "Yes" signs that Elwood, Melbourne residents hung during the postal survey
This is the second study on the impact of the postal survey on LGBT mental health. A 2018 University Of Queensland study by Francisco Perales and Abramwhich found that the health of LGBT people declined in areas of the country with a high proportion of No voters.
“Even with a relatively progressive country such as Australia, the lack of acceptance of LGBT people and the dearth of social support that they receive are to a large extent responsible for their overall poor health and wellbeing,” Perales and Abramwhich concluded.
It was UCLA public health professor Ilan Meyer who in 2003 found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people have a higher prevalence of mental disorders than heterosexuals. He devised the Minority Stress model to explain how “stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a hostile and stressful social environment that causes mental health problems" and how strong social supports help to minimise the impact.
So as Australia continues to debate the right of faith-based schools to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers, the use of conversion therapy and the rights of trans people, this study’s authors want the government to learn from the postal survey mistakes.
“First, as our nation continues to debate issues of sexuality and gender identity, we need to ensure that these discussions are conducted with care and respect. Failing to do so can have serious mental health consequences for many of Australia’s most vulnerable populations,” they wrote on The Conversation.com.
“Second, in the current social and political climate, LGBT allies and community organisations play an important role in promoting messages of support and acceptance. These messages are being heard loud and clear, especially among those who need to hear them the most.”
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