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Survey: LGBTQI community plagued by depression, anxiety and mental illness

Mardi Gras revellers put diversity on parade. What can't see is the damage inflicted by prejudice and exclusion.

Mardi Gras revellers put diversity on parade. What can't see is the damage inflicted by prejudice and exclusion. Photo: ABC/Kevin Nguyen

The first survey of LGBTQI people’s wellbeing in Australia shows rates of mental illness double to quadruple that of the general population.

The latest National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing release, with data from 2020 to 2022, gives a snapshot of key mental health issues across the country broken down by demographics including gender and sexuality.

LGBTQI+ Health Australia chief executive Nicky Bath said the constant living and stress of discrimination and stigma was a significant burden for LGBTQI+ people.”

“We are in a state of crisis in relation to mental health burdens,” Ms Bath said.

Her organisation is the national peak body for health organisations that provide services to LGBTQI communities.

The statistics show 50.3 per cent of the LGBTQI population suffer from anxiety disorders, compared with 15.9 per cent for heterosexual respondents.

A grim picture

Depression, bipolar and dysthymia, grouped under affective disorders, are four times more likely to affect LGBTQI individuals than the general population.

This is the first time trans and gender diverse, variations of sex characteristics and sexual orientation questions have been included in the national wellbeing survey, after the bureau updated its guidelines in 2020.

Overall, the rate of any disorder within a 12-month period was nearly three times as likely (58.7 per cent) for LGBTQI individuals in comparison with heterosexual respondents (19.9 per cent).

Systemic violence was an underlying cause for poor mental health outcomes.

“We’re sick because of homophobia, because of transphobia and exclusion,” Jacob Thomas, a researcher focusing on LGBTQI health and wellbeing at Monash University, says.

They outlined the range of issues that are more likely to impact trans, gender-diverse and queer people in Australia across employment, housing and healthcare.

“When you then compound all of this, then with the current narrative and experience of mental health discourse in Australia, we’re a bit screwed.”

Call for expanded training

They noted the lack of mandatory training on LGBTQI health for healthcare workers such as GPs and psychologists, as well as the dearth of overall data on the community.

“We miss the opportunity for a wider narrative by way of the lack of data,” they said, outlining the need for better data capture in order to provide necessary services and funding.

While the wellbeing survey captured a proportionate cross-section of Australian society across its nearly 16,000 respondents, the national census does not capture how many Australians identify as LGBTQI.

“It’s critical that we get a whole of government and societal response,” Ms Bath said, noting the establishment of a national expert advisory group on LGBTQI health announced by Assistant Minister for Health Ged Kearney in June.

The advisory group – of which Ms Bath is a member alongside other experts in LGBTQI health and wellbeing – will develop a long-term plan to address the needs of the LGBTQI community.

A national consultation process is in the works which will invite the experience and feedback of LGBTQI communities across Australia to inform the committee’s work.

-AAP

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