Marriage equality campaigns are harmful for LGBTQ mental health, study finds

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A new study published in Australian Psychologist is about the mental health effects of a campaign for marriage equality, and the results are alarming.

61.6% of the voters approved a law affording marriage equality in late 2017 in Australia after a contentious campaign.

Using data collected during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey held in 2017, researchers at the University of Sydney were able to explore the harm caused by the debates over marriage to the mental health of LGBTQ Australians.

Researchers conducted a survey of 1,305 lesbian, gay, or bisexual-identified Australians, measuring their exposure to both positive and negative messages about marriage equality, as well as the personal support they feel their received and the distress they felt.

The findings were clear: the debate affected the mental health of those surveyed, finding that those who had greater exposure to negative media messages faced greater psychological distress– but some of that distress could be offset by greater personal support from their friends and family.

Related: Gay, lesbian & bisexual people get less sleep than straight people

Exposure to positive messages via social media and other outlets, however, did not appear to halt the effects of negative media on one’s mental health – but did provide a benefit to those who felt their closer friends weren’t as supportive towards marriage equality.

“The findings highlight how legislative processes related to the rights of stigmatized, minority populations have the potential to adversely affect their mental health. The findings also highlight the role of personal and public support as protective factors against minority stress,” concludes the report.

“Within the limits of a cross-sectional study design, these findings have implications for public policy and legislative decision-making, treating clinicians of LGB clients, and LGB rights and mental health organizations.”

The study, while perhaps unsurprising in its findings, helps underlie the importance of “minority stress” in the health and well-being of those affected by it. Minority stress refers to the stress faced by members of a stigmatized group, including lack of social support, prejudice, discrimination, and socioeconomic status, among other stressors.

LGBTQ Australians are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder and are also more likely to attempt to self-harm or commit suicide compared to their peers – and the reason for the majority of this is the discrimination and prejudice they face in society.

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