Opinion: ‘Yes’ vote must happen for our young people

Fighting for the yes vote: Headspace chief executive officer Jason Trethowan.
Fighting for the yes vote: Headspace chief executive officer Jason Trethowan.

It was in regional Victoria last month where I saw first-hand why Australia’s vote to legalise marriage equality must happen. During a visit to our newest headspace centre, I spent time with a woman who supports and works with young LGBTIQA+ people struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

When I discuss marriage equality, I look to the statistics. How – on average – one in five young people who come into a headspace centre identify as LGBTIQA+.

But for her, she sees the faces, she hears the stories and she experiences the reality. 

As the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, headspace is 100 per cent supportive of the “yes” vote. We have a history of proof as to why such a vital social measure needs to be taken. Over the past 11 years, headspace has helped more than 355,000 young people of various ages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities.

What we’ve seen, and what research has shown, is that young LGBTIQA+ Australians have a higher risk of having, or developing, mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and substance use. This is related to homophobic abuse, difficulties with disclosure, and discrimination.

headspace centres, other health care settings, and community organisations are then in response and crisis mode to help young people and families manage their distress. There is not only a personal cost but a social and economic impact.

headspace clinicians who work at our online and over-the-phone counselling service, eheadspace, tell me of the worrying trends that LGBTIQA+ young people are reporting.

They feel that other people are deciding if they deserve to have their relationships recognised. They report feeling like a “freak” and that others see them as worthless, and without the right for recognition.  Some have even said they feel hated by fellow Australians. These fears should not exist.

Earlier this year, young people at headspace introduced a peer-led initiative created from a need in communities across Australia. Qheadspace, is on online anonymous support group chat, led by trained “queer peers” to support young LGBTIQA+ people. The demand has been so high that we’ve had to increase the number of group chats from monthly to fortnightly.

In recent weeks, headspace has come together with other youth mental health organisations in the #mindthefacts campaign. We are pooling our resources and expertise to fight for the “yes” vote - based on facts. We are encouraging Australians to carefully consider the real and devastating links between youth suicide rates and discrimination against young LGBTIQ people when they cast their vote. A “yes” vote could see as many as 3000 youth suicide attempts be averted each year. It’s a staggering fact.

And in an effort to quell some of the negative sentiment that is swirling around this debate, headspace and the #mindthefacts campaign have released a video reminder that young LGBTIQA+ people need to prioritise looking after themselves.

For young people, families and friends directly affected by the current confronting and confusing public debate, the outcome of the postal vote will be a life-changing moment. A “yes” vote, which then hopefully translates later in the year to a change in the law, will be a fresh start.

Perhaps once and for all, this human rights and equality issue can be dealt with. Just like our friends in Ireland found two years after they legalised same sex marriage – “what happens? Two people get married and the world continues”.