Study shows same-sex marriage vote damaged LGBT mental health

24 January 2019
But exposure to social support associated with reduced distress
A survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians has shown that exposure to negative sentiment during the same-sex marriage debate led to increased mental stress in the LGBT community.
The Australian Marriage Law postal survey took place in November 2017.

The Australian Marriage Law postal survey took place in November 2017.


Research by psychologists at the University of Sydney has shown that increased exposure to negative messages about same-sex marriage was associated with greater psychological distress for lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians during the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

The study showed that the stigmatised social status of lesbian, gay and bisexual identity was not only a source of stress but could also serve as a source of resilience when it provides individuals with opportunities for social support.

Published in the Australian Psychological Society’s journal, Australian Psychologist, the study assessed the mental health of 1305 Australians who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017.

The research found increased exposure to homophobic campaign and media messages was related to increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress among same-sex attracted Australians.

“The findings highlight how political decision-making and legislative processes related to the rights of minority populations have the potential to negatively affect their mental health,” said lead author Stefano Verrelli, a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology.

Mr Verrelli said the findings confirmed the many concerns expressed by mental health authorities and marriage equality advocates during the postal vote, including the Australian Medical Association, the National Mental Health Commission and the Australian Psychological Society.

The research also identified factors that can protect the mental health of same-sex attracted people during periods of intense public and political scrutiny.

“The family and friends of same-sex attracted people appear to play an important role – and seem to even offset some of the harm done by the negative side of these debates – by openly supporting LGBT rights,” Mr Verrelli said.

“LGBT rights and mental-health organisations also have an important role to play by continuing their public support of minority issues. Their public messages of support appear to improve the psychological well-being of same-sex attracted people who require it most.”

Mr Verrelli and his research team in the School of Psychology – working with researchers at Macquarie University – used the minority stress model and surveys of mental health with lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians to reach their findings.

Although Australia has now achieved marriage equality, public and political discussions about gender and sexuality continue to spark heated, often discriminatory, debates in our community and the media. These research findings suggest that such ongoing debates may pose a significant mental health risk for the LGBT community but can also promote psychological well-being if it provides LGBT people with opportunities for social support.

“Our findings have important implications for public policy and for clinical support for LGBT patients, as well as for mental health and LGBT ally organisations,” Mr Verrelli said.

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