Like so many Australians, I have felt a little frustrated, confused, and unsettled by the current marriage equality debate. Until now, I have resisted posting, thinking to myself, “Therapists aren’t meant to be political, at least not in a public way”. All the while, seeing and experiencing the impact that this divisive public discussion is having on the private lives of my clients, my friends, my family and myself.
So much of my work is about cultivating a private and interior space from which my clients can navigate and regulate a sometimes harsh and judgy exterior world. So it seemed a little contradictory to make a public statement. After all, it’s not about me, or is it?
Last night, I was sitting on the sofa watching Q&A with my partner, my cat, and my dog and trying to imagine where this ‘conversation’ will lead us ordinary Australians, the 10%. The panel included actress and author Magda Szubanski; Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies; Jesuit priest and law professor Frank Brennan; and ‘No’ campaign spokesperson Karina Okotel.
What was interesting – and delightful – about this conversation was its civility. It was a refreshing dialogue between intelligent folk with diverse passions and points of view.
As the marriage equality plebiscite draws to a close, I am left thinking what’s next? What happens if the vote comes back yes? What if it’s a no? Either way, what will it mean for the LGBTQI individuals, couples and families trying to manage their mental health and the daily status quo of getting on with life, conspicuous in the gaze of the Australian public eye. For now, I will have to wait and see. Wait until the dust settles on a brighter (more friendly) day.
This afternoon I received an email from the President of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA), Dr Di Stow. It included a personal statement from her on the impact of marriage equality and marriage denial on the health of LGBTQI peeps.
What was key for me was the following:
- Research evidence shows that same-sex attracted people experience high levels of discrimination (Hillier et al., 2005). In particular, the perceived devaluing of LGBTQI peoples’ relationships has negative impacts on their psychological well-being (Dane et al., 2010).
- There is significant evidence of poorer health and mental health outcomes for LGBTQI people (Kolstee & Hopwood 2016) compared with the broader population. LGBTQI people have the highest rate of suicide and are more likely to engage in illicit drug use and alcohol abuse (Beyond Blue, 2012; Robinson et al., 2014; McNeil, Bailey et al., 2012).
- A review of the evidence by Kolstee & Hopwood (2016) found a range of negative health impacts for LGBTQI people who are denied marriage equality.
- By contrast, there are known health benefits to marriage, including improved mental health (Wood, Goesling & Avellar 2007). Research in the USA found that measures which reduce discrimination, including marriage equality, improve overall health outcomes for LGBTQI people, while in contrast, LGBTQI people have worse health outcomes, with higher rates of suicide, homicide/violence and cardiovascular disease in States that do not recognise marriage equality (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2012).
Take care everyone and please don’t let the turkeys get you down. Be proud of who you are – whomever you are – and please reach out and ask for help if you’re feeling blue.
Beyond Blue (2013). LGBT People: Mental Health & Suicide.
Dane, S.K., Masser, B.M., MacDonald, G. & Duck, J.M. (2010). Not so private lives: National findings on the relationships and well-being of same-sex attracted Australians. School of Psychology Publications. The University of Queensland.
Hatzenbuehler, M.L., O’Cleirigh C., Grasso, C., Mayer, K., Safren, S. & Bradford J. (2012). Effect of SameSex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment. Am J Public Health 2012;102:285-91. American Psychological Association, 2012. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390442
Hillier, L., Turner, A. & Mitchell, A. (2005). Writing themselves in again: 6 years on, the 2nd national report on the sexuality, health & well-being of same sex attracted young people in Australia, monograph series no. 50, Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society, Melbourne.
Kolstee, J. & Hopwood, M. (2016). The impacts of marriage equality and marriage denial on the health of lesbian, gay and bisexual people: Evidence Review & Annotated Bibliography. ACON and the Centre for Social Research in Health, Sydney.
McNeil, J., Bailey, L., Ellis, S., Morton, J. & Regan, M. (2012). Trans Mental Health Study 2012, Scottish Transgender Alliance, Scotland.
Robinson, K.H., Bansel, P., Denson, N., Ovenden, G. & Davies, C. (2014), Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who Are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne.
Wood,R.G., Goesling, B., & Avellar, S. (2007). The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence. Dept of Health & Human Services, Melbourne. Available from: https://aspe.hhs.gov/system/files/pdf/75106/report.pdf