While the debate around same-sex marriage and the nation’s postal ballot has largely been conducted with little consideration for the mental wellbeing of those in the LGBTIQA+ communities, World Mental Health Day, today 10 October provides a timely opportunity to take stock and provide support to those most affected by the battle over yes or no.
And while it seems every person in the street has an opinion, it is the marginalised in the often-vicious realm of the online world who are more affected than most.
As General Manager of leading online community management provider Quiip, when it comes to online comments, I’ve seen (and read) it all – including more hate than I’d like to – in my 10 years working in online communities and social media.
What can make the unmoderated online world such a cesspit for digital poison penning is a theory we call the ‘veil of anonymity’. People feel free from accountability when they’re posting online, even in places like Facebook where they may be using their real name.
People from LGBTIQA+ communities are already at higher risk of mental ill-health and suicide. The heated opinions and vitriol around marriage equality being shared brazenly online puts them in danger of their wellbeing being further compromised.
Here are some alarming general statistics from LGBTI National Health Alliance:
• LGBTIQA+ people are twice to six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety
• LGBTIQA+ people are five to eleven times more likely to attempt suicide
• LGBT young people who experience abuse and harassment are even more likely to attempt suicide
Furthermore, the impact of the marriage equality debate is deepening these issues:
• LGBTI National Health Alliance states, ‘As a community, we are already witnessing a rise in the levels of stress and anxiety within LGBTI communities over the plebiscite. People are genuinely distressed over public debate about our private lives.’
• ‘As discussion over relationship equality and family legitimacy increases, we’re seeing a profound impact on people’s ability to withstand opinions on the validity of their lives and family units. There is an increasing need to seek places of refuge and safety where public comment and opinion cannot penetrate.’
• ReachOut states it’s seen a 20 per cent increase in people accessing LGBTI support services with many contacting them with anxiety over the same-sex marriage survey results and ‘legalising same sex marriage equality is linked to a significantly beneficial effect on the mental health of the young LGBTI people.’
Mia Freedman talks to Janine Middleton, the CEO of Australian Marriage Equality, about what you can do to help. (Post continues after audio.)
• ‘We know that marriage, regardless of the sexual orientation of the partners, is strongly associated with physical and mental health benefits and a lower suicide risk,’ reports Black Dog Institute
• In fact, the benefits of inclusion and recognition include: Improved resilience, increased sense of security, greater social cohesion, and public health benefits.
Australia’s National Mental Health Commission states that ‘LGBTIQ people are personally affected by the continuing debate, encountering unacceptable sentiments and behaviour in their workplaces, their communities, and in social and public media.’
You don’t need to look far to get first hand accounts of the potential damage and impact of online comments on those whose lifestyle and relationships are at the centre of debate. A quick check-in with a few friends, colleagues and health professionals elicited similar responses: the ongoing debate and debasing commentary is hurting.
Lauren said, “They don't consider the impact they may have on real, living human beings. My lowest moment was seeing my aunt share a ‘vote no’ YouTube video.”
Raquel said, “My resilience around homophobic things on the internet is usually pretty strong. However, lately my mental health hasn't been the best due to other life factors, so when I saw so many of my friends sharing the ‘stop the fags’ posters that were distributed in Melbourne it was really rough, even though everyone who shared it was actually a supporter and were sharing it in outrage, it was hard to see.”
Social worker and online community manager, Ngaio’s response echoed the sentiments of many working in the community mental health field, “I'm worried about what they're going through, having to defend their personal, private choices in a public sphere and, even more so, what is going to happen if the outcome is 'No'. What on earth do we do then? How do we ever ask them to have faith in their leaders/political system/community then?”
It’s a compelling question without an easy answer. Unfortunately, while we can’t influence the outcomes of national ballots and surveys, we can influence the outcomes on individuals by providing support to those potentially impacted family members, friends and colleagues.
Here are seven tips to share with those you care about who may be affected by the marriage equality debate:
1. Turn off the devices. It’s hard to do so in this digital age, but so important to remove yourself from the likelihood of seeing comments that will affect you personally if you’re feeling the impact of it.
2. Spend time with trusted friends. You can discuss how it’s affecting you or do something to distract you entirely.
3. If you’re feeling harassed or uncomfortable in the workplace talk to a trusted colleague, an HR representative or, call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if your organisation has an EAP program in place for staff.
4. Provide support information. Lifeline (13 11 14) provides crisis and suicide support and SANE (1800 18 7263) can help talk about your mental health. Both Lifeline and SANE also have online chat available. Seek out peer support in online communities. beyondblue and SANE are for a broad audience and ReachOut focuses on youth under the age of 25.
5. Practice good self-care. The goal of self-care is to help you feel healthy and relaxed and able to manage work and daily life. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and staying on top of housework are all important parts of self-care.
6. Treat yourself. It’s times like these you need to be kind to yourself. Go out for coffee and cake, see a movie, get a massage or play computer games. Whatever it is that puts you in a good mood, do more of it.
7. Remind them that, YES, this is important and it’s okay if it’s getting them down. Provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.