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Marriage equality debate impacts on mental health

Concerns have been raised for the mental health of older members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex and Questioning (LGBTIQ) community in Australia following the current marriage equality debate and postal plebiscite.

Concern is being raised about the mental wellbeing of older LGBTIQ
Concern is being raised about the mental wellbeing of older LGBTIQ

The National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) has recently expressed their concern saying that the impact of the debate on older Australians seems to have been “forgotten”.

“As outlined in previous work by NARI and colleagues for beyondblue, many suffered years of oppression, discrimination and violence, as well as persecution and subsequent imprisonment because of past laws and community attitudes,” NARI explains.

“The ongoing debate about marriage equality and the impending postal vote serve to expose older LGBTIQ people to a resurgence of negative discourse.

“This discourse dredges up past issues of marginalisation and discrimination, placing their health and wellbeing at further risk.”

Among those also raising concern for the mental wellbeing of older LGBTIQ Australians as a result of the current political debate, is the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Director of Celebrate Ageing Dr Catherine Barrett.

“The AMA came out with a position on marriage equality a few months ago, supporting it because of the important difference it will make to mental wellbeing,” Dr Barrett says.

“A lot of the focus is on younger LGBTIQ community members but I am always reminding people that this has a huge impact on older people too.

“It’s really not just the idea of marriage equality, it’s the doubt and underhandedness that is really damaging – and we can see it with calls to LGBTIQ helplines increasing enormously.”

LBGTIQ elder, 69-year-old Jamie Gardner from Victoria, says that the relief of marriage equality laws passing will be felt in a number of ways.

“The public conversation brought up by those who are opposed to the laws being passed have been awful, damaging and harmful but there is a silver lining,” he says.

“Because the conversation is made public, when the law is passed it will be talked about and known and it will be a great signal of the end of the discussion and really put a capping on the discrimination older LGBTIQ people grew up on.

“Marriage equality nationally will see the long wait be worthwhile, the shame lifted – it will be relief and validation and a realisation of how troubles were and what a great thing it was to survive and celebrate.

“The importance of this symbolism and sense of validation and relief will be especially felt by older LGBTIQ folk and it’s a great thing.”

Mr Gardner adds that the passing of marriage equality and the end of the debate will not necessarily signify the end of prejudice.

“Prejudice causes ill health and there remains widespread prejudice, which will take time to work out and there are programs that are dealing with that,” he says.

“There is a long trail of work to change the mindsets of every aspect of life – every workplace, school, club, neighbourhood and aged care facility – to normalise and accept LGBTIQ people as a normal part of society.

“Work still needs to be done but this is a milestone – a very big milestone – in a long journey but that journey is not yet finished.”

NARI has also raised the concerns for older LGBTIQ people when it comes to aged care and fears that many will not access the care they need out of fear.

“The ongoing effects of this historical treatment has meant that many older LGBTIQ Australians experience depression and anxiety and are fearful of accessing health and aged care services due to the belief they will be further stigmatised and discriminated against –with good reason,” NARI says.

“Research has consistently shown that many older LGBTIQ people around the world have been denied care or provided with inferior care, and have had their sexuality ignored, dismissed or marginalised by health and aged care providers.

“Failure to access the services and care they need means that older LGBTIQ Australians miss out on vital interventions and suffer adverse health outcomes as a result.”

South Australian Care Provider ECH has recently been accredited the Rainbow Tick, an important achievement within the aged care sector according to their Diversity Project Manager Robyn Burton.

“I have heard of many instances where older people from LGBTIQ communities will either go back into the closet and attempt to ‘pass’ as heterosexual or cisgender (non-transgender), or will introduce their partners as their ‘friends’ or family members,” Ms Burton explains.

“This ‘closeting’ is done in order to avoid possible negative reactions to their identity and relationships; it’s highly stressful and some people will avoid accessing services to prevent this stress.”

Ms Burton adds that providers, like ECH, who have the Rainbow Tick accreditation offer a discrimination-free aged care environment.

“Historically many people from LGBTIQ communities have felt the need to censure themselves and their relationships in order to receive non-discriminatory support from service providers,” she says.

“The Rainbow Tick and the organisations that undertake Rainbow Tick accreditation have changed the game by saying to people from LGBTI communities, not only do you not have to censure yourself, but we welcome you, your partner and your community.

“You will be supported not ‘regardless’ of your identity, rather we will take regard of your identity and provide culturally appropriate support that reflects your identity.”

Currently there are 15 Rainbow Tick accredited providers in Australia.

For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or between the hours of 3pm-midnight contact QLife on 1800 184 527.

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