Plebiscite, debate, survey, vote - with care

Here’s another drop in the ocean of words related to the same-sex marriage debate. This drop focuses on the mental health of young people who see themselves as LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer).

Here at school and across the country students are coming out to their peers. And often their peers are more accepting and supportive than would have been the case in only the recent past.

You probably know that LGBTIQ+ young people are at increased risk of mental health problems. You may also have heard that this higher risk is due in large part because of stigma, bullying, rejection, and judgment. Sometimes this negativity is internalised by the young person who, at a confusing life-stage when identity formation is a major challenge, can come to hate themselves over something fundamental about who they are.

A report just out showed that transgender youth (aged 12-17) in particular are at very high risk. They self harm at 7 times the rate their peers do; are depressed or anxious 10 times as much; and 48% had attempted suicide, a remarkable 20 times the rate of other young people. That is a stunning statistic.

As if puberty and growing up didn’t already have its challenges, these kids have an increased load to deal with – having to announce (or hide) who they really are, especially with family, and then deal with blowback from people over something they didn’t choose to be.

We all need to be very conscious that the public debate is having a negative impact on the mental health of some young people. This is not happening in some debating society, but in schools and in homes, and in the hearts and minds of some vulnerable kids.

A few other students have parents/carers who are LGBTIQ+ and are hearing needlessly hurtful statements that reflect badly on their families.

Of course not every LGBTIQ+ young person is mentally unwell; some have great support and feel confident in their emerging identity, and actively resist discrimination.

What can parents and carers do? Simply, all of us can model sensitivity, respect, and compassion. Whether or not you think your child has any LGBTIQ+ concerns, they are noticing your attitudes, and that will impact on how they treat others (and how they think about themselves).

Reference: Trans Pathways (Telethon Kids Institute, Perth)

On the school website there is advice on finding information and support for a range of needs (Current families > Counselling).

Martin Graham
School Counsellor