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Public vote on same-sex marriage sees spike in calls to counselors, say LGBTI youth workers

'Half the conversations I have had in our youth drop-in program have been about the postal vote'

Public vote on same-sex marriage sees spike in calls to counselors, say LGBTI youth workers
Rally for marriage equality in Sydney

Sydney-based LGBTI youth service Twenty10 reported a 20% increase in the amount of contact they’ve received since an Australian public vote on same-sex marriage was announced.

Twenty10 staff believe the harmful plebiscite is having a direct negative effect on the LGBTI community.

Counsellor Amy Harper told Gay Star News: ‘I don’t think I’ve had a single interaction with a young person who hasn’t mentioned the plebiscite.’

Twenty10 staff say a public vote on marriage equality opens up the LGBTI community to ridicule and hate.

According to a recent Australian report, ‘41% [of those surveyed] thought about self-harm and/or suicide, 33% harmed themselves, and 16% attempted suicide.’

Client Services Officer Jacob McDonald agreed: ‘The young people we work with often have experiences of trauma, abuse, rejection and discrimination.

‘They are at a particularly high risk of anxiety, depression and suicide and there is a very real concern that this debate will increase that risk,’ he said.

‘Half the conversations I have had in our youth drop-in program have been about the postal vote’

Macdonald says anecdotally there’s a clear link between the negative effects of the plebiscite on youth mental health.

He said: ‘Half the conversations I have had in our youth drop-in program have been about the postal vote.

‘[They] are about their anger and frustration over the process as a whole and their concern that it is just going to get worse.

‘One young person expressed feeling anxious about how this debate will play out,’ he said.

And it’s not just LGBTI youth voicing their concerns over the harmful plebiscite.

Client Services Officer Shannon Dalton received calls from concerned parents and school counsellors as well. She says this shows that this debate affects the entire community.

‘They’re concerned that the increased amount of hate in the media will have negative impacts on their kids,’ said Dalton.

Associate Professor of the Black Dog Institute Josephine Anderson, said the debate surrounding the plebiscite was likely to exacerbate mental health concerns.

She said: ‘Younger LGBT people have higher rates of mental health issues and a higher rate of suicide compared to their heterosexual peers, and the reason for that is the discrimination and prejudice against them,’ reports the Canberra Times.

Marriage equality rally in Sydney today (10 September)

‘When there’s additional publicity and debate, young people will become even more aware of their differences.

‘We know we are strong’

Anderson said unregulated social media content can play a huge role in the negative effect of mental health.

She said: ‘There’s also a largely unregulated expression of people’s feelings towards same-sex marriage on social media.

‘[This] can often be anonymous,’ she added.

It’s not all bad news though, say LGBTI youth workers. Twenty10 Communications and Development Officer Dina Elenbaas said: ‘Our communities are resilient and have dealt with many other legal challenges in the past.

‘We know we are strong, but we also know the next couple of months will be tough.

‘Twenty10 will continue to support our communities through these challenging times,’ she added.

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