For 24-hour crisis support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For information and support, young people can visit ReachOut.com.
As the marriage equality postal surveys begin to land in letterboxes around Australia, mental health organisations are experiencing an influx of people seeking support.
ReachOut, an online mental health service aimed at young Australians and their parents, has experienced a 19 per cent increase in visitors to its website over the past month, compared to the four weeks prior.
That’s an extra 17,887 people seeking information, help and advice in the wake of the Government’s plebiscite becoming policy.
CEO Jono Nicholas said with more than one in four of its visitors not identifying as heterosexual, ReachOut anticipated a user spike in the postal-vote period, but not to such an extent.
“We’re hearing that the fact that this conversation is happening is causing a lot of anxiety. They’re saying ‘people are debating my future, debating the validity of my relationship’,” Nicholas told Mamamia.
“Within that they are being exposed to comments, especially online, that are proving very hurtful.”
Listen: A message for Malcolm Turnbull about the same-sex marriage plebiscite. (Post continues.)
Nicholas said the sudden increase in young ReachOut users extremely concerning given young LGBTI people are five to six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
“This is a group that is already vulnerable to discrimination, potentially to violence and has an elevated risk of suicide,” he said.
Such concerns have been dismissed by some vocal members of the Vote No campaign, which was officially launched on Saturday evening. Among the detractors, Nationals Senator Matt Cananvan who last week said it was time to “stop being delicate little flowers” and have a proper debate.
“Can’t we just all grow a spine and grow up? The debate hasn’t been that bad,” he told Sky News.
The Senator was responding to a statement by the Government’s National Mental Health Commission, in which Co-Chairs Professor Allan Fels and Lucy Brogden expressed alarm about the potential negative health impacts of the marriage equality debate.
“Despite the fact the majority of Australians are supportive of LGBTIQ people, unfortunately unacceptable sentiments are being expressed,” Prof Fels said in a statement.
To young people and their parents impacted by such sentiments, Nichols has the following message:
“The campaign will end. Focus on that end date, and make sure you curate and manage your time on social media well. The other thing is, look after each other,” he said. “If you do need support there are places you can go, services you can access and people who care about you.”
To the rest of the community – regardless of which box you tick – he urges mindfulness and caution about the way the issue is spoken about, now and in the lead up to the announcement of the survey results in November.
Of course, ReachOut is not only hoping that announcement will be ‘yes’, but a resounding ‘yes’.
“That will send an incredibly positive message to LGBTI young people that Australia does care about them, that we believe in their equality,” Nicholas said.
“It could give some young people that are feeling hopeless right now a great deal of hopefulness.”