AUSTRALIA’S national depression body has abandoned the gay community and ignored its high rates of suicide, self-harm and mental illness, lobby groups claim.
beyondblue, chaired by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, has knocked back repeated funding requests to support depressed young people struggling with their sexuality.
The suicide rate for this group is up to eight times higher than their straight peers, often due to homophobic bullying, abuse and anxiety about coming out.
Despite isolation and discrimination being known risk factors for depression, a suicide prevention program for young gay Victorians in rural areas has twice had beyondblue grant applications denied.
Sue Hackney, who runs the WayOut program, said children growing up in country areas were particularly at risk.
“Because there’s less visibility of adult gay and lesbian role models in their community they can feel like they’re the proverbial ‘only gay in the village’,” she said. Since its inception in 2000, beyondblue has set up programs targeting specific groups such as indigenous Australians and postnatal mothers but has done nothing with the gay and lesbian community.
Gay rights advocate Rob Mitchell, who is on the State Government’s ministerial steering committee for governance and inclusion, said the issue was “screaming out for attention”.
“Why are they ignoring this area?” Mr Mitchell asked. “It can’t be because the research tells them they don’t need to do anything because it does, so the only reason I can think of is for some perceived political reason. How is there a political risk in stopping same-sex-attracted kids killing themselves?”
beyondblue chief executive Leonie Young said research commissioned by the charity and released a fortnight ago looked specifically at depression among gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians. Among the findings were that up to 31 per cent of gay people suffered anxiety disorders and depression compared with between 4 and 14 per cent of heterosexuals. Seventeen per cent of young gay women had tried to harm or kill themselves in the previous six months, compared with 2 per cent of straight women.
However, Mr Mitchell said the research was only released after pressure from him, that beyondblue did not promote it and that there was no immediate plan to address the findings.
Ms Young conceded there were no specific support programs targeting the gay community, but results of the study — conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society — would be used to remedy that. “Young people and young women are two high-risk groups within the gay, lesbian and transgender and bisexual community, so we’re listening, we’re acting,” she said.
Lyn Morgain, chief executive of Victoria’s biggest gay and lesbian community group, the ALSO Foundation, said she had lobbied for years for projects to be funded by beyondblue with no success. “I think it’s a real travesty because it’s quite clear there’s a real vulnerability in those young people.”