Beyond Blue’s discrimination figures don’t add up

by: GARY JOHNS. From: The Australian  September 08, 201512:00AM

Gary Johns

Opinion Columnist

To my many gay friends and acquaintances, on the matter of the same-sex marriage plebiscite may I say: be very careful about the company you choose.

Beyond Blue, a predominantly Australian government-funded $50 million charity ostensibly raising awareness of depression, is running a national campaign in favour of same-sex marriage.

Beyond Blue claims that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have ‘‘an increased risk of depression and anxiety … and suicidal thoughts, and take their own lives at a much higher rate than heterosexual people. This is not because of sexuality or gender identity. LGBTI people, just like any Australian, face the same risk factors for mental health and suicide. What is different is the violence, prejudice and discrimination they face … This adds an additional and unacceptable layer of risk.’’

They claim, through a chain of causation, that marriage is discriminatory and that it follows that such discrimination is a cause of depression, which in turn ­causes suicide in LGBTI people.

If so, the significant changes to Australian attitudes to LGBTI people and the removal of every conceivable form of official discrimination against LGBTI people in the past two or more decades should have resulted in a diminution of the suicide rate. ­Indeed, evidence would be essential if one were to argue that marriage, the last and arguably least important bastion of alleged discrimination, is to fall.

Unfortunately for Beyond Blue, there is no Australian data to test this proposition. However, in Denmark and Canada, where LGBTI marriage is accepted, the evidence is not encouraging.

Canada extended civil marriage to same-sex couples in 2005. The LGBTI population is a tiny minority, so progress may not show in population data. Even so, while suicide rates in Canada overall have declined slightly, they have risen in half the Canadian provinces. Not much evidence there of a positive result from removing discrimination in marriage.

Not much joy either in an investigation of suicide mortality in Denmark during the initial 12-year period following legalisation of same-sex registered “domestic partnerships”. While before and after figures are not reported, the suicide risk nevertheless remains “greatly elevated for men in same-sex partnerships” (RM Mathy, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2011).

More important for Beyond Blue activists is that there are no studies on the relationship between those who have died by suicide and sexuality in Australia.

A recent fascinating study in Queensland attempted to overcome that absence by ‘‘constructing’’ LGBT profiles from psychosocial information gathered of those whose suicide had been recorded on the Queensland Suicide Register (DM Skerrett, Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 2014). Researchers identified 35 LGBT (no intersex cases) suicide cases among 5966 registered between 2000 and 2009. These represent 0.58 per cent of suicides on the register.

While it was not the purpose of the study to measure the prevalence of LGBT suicides, LGBT suicides were nevertheless less than for the population. The 2007 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010) for example, found that 1.9 per cent of men and women reported being homosexual or bisexual.

The Queensland study suggested no difference in the prevalence of psychiatric disorder among LGBT suicides but that it was likelier that depression was mentioned as a factor. However, the rates of diagnosis for depression were not significantly different.

The real insights were that fully two-thirds of LGBT individuals experienced relationship problems compared with one-third in comparison cases.

Relationship conflict was significantly more common in LGBT cases (31 per cent versus 10 per cent in comparison cases). Interpersonal conflict was more frequent among LGBT individuals (14 per cent) than in comparison cases (5 per cent), with the difference “approaching statistical significance”.

In addition, other factors such as fear of contracting HIV, social isolation and alienation, and conflict over sexuality were more common among LGBT cases.

The authors describe as “remarkable” the high incidence of interpersonal conflict in the lives of LGBT people who have died by suicide in the present study. The authors conceded that their study was “unable to measure perceived levels of societal stigma directly” but, in any event, that which was noted related mainly to the fear of contracting AIDS, which is overwhelmingly a disease of homosexual men.

The Beyond Blue line that the tragedy of some LGBTI people is all about discrimination and nothing to do with sexual identity is not supported by evidence.

An ­attempt to draw conclusions unsupported by evidence does no dignity to the national debate and is not remotely the work of a ­charity.

Gary Johns is the author of The Charity Ball.

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