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Census data confirm gay Australians face higher risk of mental health

Being gay means enduring stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse.

Being gay means enduring stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse. Photo: Getty

Queer and gender-diverse people are suffering from rates of mental ill health far greater than their heterosexual counterparts.

Three-quarters of LGBTQI Australians have experienced a mental disorder or illness at some point in their life, an Australian Bureau of Statistics analysis of 2020 census data shows. This compares with four out of 10 heterosexual individuals.

Members of the LGBTQI community were also more likely to report higher rates of psychological distress, with nearly half experiencing significant thoughts of taking their own lives compared to one in seven in the remaining population.

The findings highlight the need for well-funded support services for queer Australians, including gender-affirming care for the trans community, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia chief executive Nicky Bath said.

‘Stigma, prejudice, discrimination’

“These adverse mental health outcomes relate directly to the stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse that LGBTQ+ people have experienced and continue to experience,” she said.

Non-binary Australians – people whose gender falls outside of identifying as a man or woman – are also at greater risk of self-harm with four in five reporting suicidal thoughts, compared to less than one in five men and women.

They were also twice as likely to experience a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.

Across the queer spectrum, bisexual people reported greater rates of suicidal ideation and mental illness, with 80 per cent experiencing a mental disorder at some stage in their life.

The statistics bureau has only just begun measuring the specific mental health outcomes of LGBTQI people, with 2020 being the first census to use a new standard for sexual orientation, gender and sex characteristics.

 Commissioner’s apology

The census does not currently measure the actual number of LGBTQI individuals across the nation outside of same-sex couples living together, but Rainbow Health Victoria estimates four to five per cent of the general population identify as gay, lesbian, queer and/or gender diverse.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb in February apologised for police failures highlighted by a special inquiry into gay hate crimes, which found bias was a likely factor in 25 of 32 suspected homicides from 1970 to 2010.

Following the alleged murder of gay couple Jesse Baird and Luke Davies by a police officer, advocacy groups such as Pride in Protest have called for greater action on institutional failures within NSW Police.

“(Ms Webb’s) apology is hollow and worthless while recommendations for police conduct are ignored and acts of violence continue,” Pride in Protest member Charlie Murphy told reporters on Tuesday.

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