The Mental Health of LGBTI Australians
Visit our MindOUT! webpage for up-to-date information on our national Mental Health and Suicide Prevention project.
LGBTI People, Resilience and Mental Health Problems
LGBTI people have demonstrated considerable resilience in looking after themselves and their communities despite adversity (e.g. prejudice, HIV, discrimination). To date there has been little investigation of the factors that contribute to resilence. The wider community can learn from LGBTI people's experience in this respect.
Nevertheless, the experience of dealing with marginalisation and stigmatisation on a daily basis does mean that we also experience more negative mental health outcomes than the population as a whole. Out of the 20,000 participants in the national Australian Study of Health and Relationships, those who were same-sex attracted reported higher levels of psychosocial distress. Results from the Longitudinal Study of the Health of Australian Women showed that 38% of same-sex attracted female respondents aged 22-27 had experienced depression compared to 19% of heterosexual female respondents, and that non-heterosexual women were more likely to have tried to harm or kill themselves in the previous 6 months (12.6% vs 2.7%)2 Nearly three quarters of the 5,500 participants in the 2005 Private Lives Survey reported some experience of depression in the past, with 49% of men and 44% having a major depressive episode. In addition 16% of all respondents indicated suicidal ideation (thoughts) in the two weeks prior to completing the survey3. High rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts have been demonstrated as linked to ongoing harassment and violence in same-sex attracted young people.4
The impact of discrimination, abuse and isolation
Same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria and intersex conditions are not themselves risk factors for mental health problems, but they may make people more vulnerable to negative experiences and discrimination. Discrimination is a significant issue that results in conflicted familial and other social relationships and diminished emotional and practical support. These issues are exacerbated when LGBTI people accessing mental health services have negative experiences arising from actual or perceived institutionalised discrimination or from a lack of resources and understanding of LGBTI-specific issues in the mental health sector.
Towards Better Mental Health Outcomes for LGBTI Australians
There are a range of initiatives that must be undertaken in order to address the mental health issues faced by LGBTI Australians. The success of these initiatives is dependant upon commitment from the Government to work with mental health service providers and LGBTI health organisations to ensure that LGBTI people are accessing and receiving proper care and support. Accordingly, the Commonwealth must:
- support and fund prevention and early intervention programs that seek to address LGBTI mental health issues, particularly for young people.
- support and fund programs that address the issue of dual diagnosis among LGBTI people (i.e mental health and problematic drug/alcohol use)
- ensure that LGBTI people with mental health issues are able to properly access existing mental health services
- support a strengths-based, holistic approach that promotes the resilience of LGBTI people
The Alliance's Work to Improve the Mental Health of LGBTI Australians
The Alliance engages with both government and the mental health sector to raise awareness of the issues facing LGBTI Australians and provide advice on how the mental health outcomes of these communities can be improved. We have made a number of written and oral submissions, presentations and had many conversations.
Read some of the Alliance publications that relate specifically to mental health and sucide:
- Smith, A.M.A., Rissel, C., Richters, J., Grulich, A., & De Visser, R.O. (2003). Sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience in a representative sample of adults. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 27: 138-145
- McNair, R., Kavanagh, A., Agius, P., & Tong, B. (2004). The mental heath status of young adult and mid-life non-heterosexual Australian women. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 29(3): 265-271
- Pitts, M., Smith, A., Mitchell, A., & Patel, S. (2006) Private Lives: A Report on the Health andWellbeing of LGBTI Australians, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne
- Hillier, L., Turner, A., & Mitchell, A. (2005) Writing Themselves In Again: The 2nd National Report on the Sexual Health & Wellbeing of Same-Sex Attracted Young People in Australia, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS) La Trobe University, Melbourne