Australia: A yes vote is vital for the mental health of LGBT Australians. That's a fact

With the authorisation of an unnecessary postal vote on marriage equality, the public debate has predictably turned into a circus. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that the intellectual equivalent of custard pies are being thrown. False claims by the no campaign that marriage equality would somehow constitute an attack on freedom of speech and set in motion a chain of events culminating in young boys having to wear dresses in schools are as imaginative as they are inaccurate.

The question would perhaps better be phrased as follows: does Australia wish to stop senselessly discriminating against a minority group, or not? Despite the prime minister declaring that he has more important things to focus on than this issue, a yes vote is vitally important for the sake of equal rights as well as the message of acceptance it would send to LGBT people in Australia.

Australia, like every other country in the world, has a long tradition of discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, the mental health effects of which are striking. Gay men and women have higher rates of a range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviour. These rates apply to young LGBT people too – who are more than three times as likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers.

These higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness have been well explained by “minority stress” theory. Initially described in relation to the gay community, it could reasonably be applied to any minority group facing discrimination. The theory proposes that LGBT individuals are a disadvantaged minority group and face three additional types of stress not experienced by the majority: the objective experience of homophobic abuse, both physical and verbal; “perceived stigma” or the expectation of discrimination, which leaves people in a state of high alert and slowly chips away at their psychological defences; and the internalisation of negative attitudes or “internalised homophobia”, referring to LGBT people absorbing the negative attitudes around them which tragically fosters a misguided self-perception of inferiority. Read more via the Guardian