‘Staggeringly high’ levels of stress among LGBTQA+ youth

4 March 2021 | Posted In: #138 Autumn 2021, Archive, Mental Health Programs,

A new survey from La Trobe University shows that queerphobia has not been relegated to a by-gone age. Rebecca Benson reports.

More needs to be done to improve the mental health outcomes of young LGBTQA+ Australians. That’s one of the findings from the largest national survey measuring the health and wellbeing of queer youth. Conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), more than 6,000 young people aged 14 to 21 were asked to comment on subjects such as education, homelessness, harassment, assault, community connections — and mental health.

Disturbingly, the survey showed 81 percent of respondents reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress — that’s at least three times higher than young people in the general population. Furthermore, 10.1 percent reported a suicide attempt in the past year, while a quarter of respondents reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives. “That’s a staggeringly high proportion that I think gives us a great deal to be concerned about,” said lead researcher, associate professor Adam Bourne from La Trobe University.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents reported feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school due to their sexuality or gender identity; 40.8 percent experienced verbal harassment; 22.8 percent reported sexual harassment or assault; and 9.7 percent experienced physical harassment or assault.

“Every young person deserves to live free from harassment and exclusion, but as this report, and many previous reports make clear, LGBTQA+ young people continue to experience hostility in public, in their homes, on the sports field, and at school,” said Bourne. “We have to recognise that context as we reflect upon the very high rates of poor mental health we documented.”

What the ARCSHS survey unfortunately highlights is that — although Australian queer youth have gained more acceptance and obtained more rights than previous generations (marriage equality for example) — queerphobia remains very much alive and well in 2021. This, say the survey’s authors, is especially true for trans and gender-diverse young people who suffer disproportionally poorer health and wellbeing outcomes across the board. “We clearly need to be doing more to tackle the homophobia and transphobia that still exists within society so that all young people can feel safe,” said Bourne.

Whilst many of the findings are troubling, the survey clearly demonstrates that — among Generation Z at least — sexuality and gender identity no longer appear to be an issue. Indeed, 88.3 percent of participants felt supported by their peers when they came out as LGBTQA+. “It isn’t the case for people living in rural areas; it isn’t always the case for people coming from ethnically diverse backgrounds,” said Bourne, “but as a general trend, we’re certainly seeing a greater level of acceptance and support around the point at which young people connect.”

The ARCSHS survey — the fourth conducted since 1998 — allows policy makers, healthcare service providers and the wider community to understand the impacts that social isolation and discrimination have on queer youth. “We now have a mass of information that is providing a vital resource for those working to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTQA+ young people throughout Australia,” said Bourne.

One such organisation is LGBTIQ+ Health Australia. Commenting on the ARCSHS findings, acting CEO Zed Tintor has called for an urgent national response that includes increased resources for community-controlled health providers “to ensure that LGBTQA+ young people can access culturally safe services — wherever and whenever they need help”. Tintor added: “Reducing and eradicating minority stress within LGBTQA+ communities starts with our young people — making sure they are given the respect, support and encouragement to be who they are and live happy and fulfilling lives.”

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