POLITICS

Mental Health Experts Warn Government Against 'Very Damaging' Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite

Young LGBTQ Australians are at a six times greater risk of suicide.

10/08/2017 11:48 AM AEST | Updated 10/08/2017 12:23 PM AEST

Australia's leaders in mental health have warned the Federal Government against what will be a "very damaging" same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign and the urgent suicide risk it poses to young LGBTQ people.

The Government on Wednesday again failed to pass legislation in the Senate to hold a plebiscite, or public vote, on same-sex marriage in Australia.

Now, despite looming High Court challenges, Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal-National Coalition intends to hold a postal vote in the coming months conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But the damage a postal plebiscite and campaigns against a 'yes' vote' could cause the LGBTQ community, particularly younger people, has experts extremely concerned.

"I think what we will see is a huge raft of discrimination and homophobia throughout our media and in our communities," Dr Jo Robinson, the Head of Suicide Prevent Research for Orygen, told HuffPost Australia in a Facebook Live panel discussion Thursday.

"That's going to be very damaging to young people."

Research shows that around eight Australians will take their own life every day. That alarming statistic is catastrophically higher in young LGBTQ people, who are at a six times' greater risk of suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

"I think that actually the Government needs to take this really seriously," Robinson said.

When asked whether the same-sex marriage vote could negatively affect the LGBTQ population, Headspace CEO Jason Trethowan offered a blunt assessment: "Yes."

A joint study by Harvard University and John Hopkins University found that American states where same-sex marriage became legal were linked to a reduced risk in youth suicide attempts.

"We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views," Julia Raifman, the study's author, said in February.

Robinson cited this "really strong" research in calling for the Government to carefully consider the impact of a divisive, corrosive national debate on the issue in Australia. On Wednesday, Labor Senator Penny Wong savaged the plebiscite for "exposing our children to that kind of hatred" from 'no' vote campaigners.

"We've also seen really damaging effects of plebiscites in other countries around the world where mental ill-health has gone up and suicide risk has gone up," Robinson said.

Should the Government's plans for a postal vote proceed, mail forms are expected to arrive in letterboxes from mid-September -- which means it's important to make sure your details are up to date with the Australian Electoral Commission.

In the 2016 federal election more than 250,000 eligible young voters were not registered on the electoral roll. You can update your details or register on the AEC website and find more information here.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

More On This Topic