By Melissa Fyfe – The Age
HOMOPHOBIA is alive and well in Australia and linked to startling levels of depression among gays and lesbians, according to a study to be released today.
Ninety per cent of gay and lesbian Australians still in some way curb public affection for partners and almost 60 per cent have experienced verbal abuse, the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University found.
The study, the biggest of its kind in Australia, canvassed 5500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Almost three-quarters reported past depression and nearly half reported at least one sign of a major depressive episode.
Suicidal thoughts were found to be higher than among heterosexuals — about 16 per cent in gay men compared with 10 per cent of heterosexual men.
“All of the smaller studies have indicated high rates of depression,” said co-author Anne Mitchell, director of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria. “But this was higher than we suspected. We went back to check the data twice to make sure we didn’t make a mistake — it was so striking.”
The good news is that these troubles ease as gays and lesbians age.
“There is an enormous amount of anxiety for young people especially, but it was reassuring that older people grow out of these problems by finding safe and stable environments and good supportive groups around them,” Associate Professor Mitchell said.
Compared with heterosexuals, drug use was higher among gays and lesbians.
Professor Mitchell said this was sometimes seen as part of gay culture. But marijuana, tobacco and alcohol were “probably used more for coping”.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people also suffered more verbal and physical abuse from partners.
A third of respondents reported having been in a verbally or physically abusive relationship.
In assessing their own health and wellbeing, bisexual women came out worse than any other group. Ms Mitchell said this often showed up in studies and was puzzling. Putting aside these issues, the study found the general health of this part of the community was no different from heterosexual health.
The study also revealed frustration with the health system, with same-sex relationships not always recognised. Increased legitimacy and acceptance would be the most important factor in improving the health and wellbeing of gay and lesbian people, the study said. This included better recognition of gay relationships, less discrimination at work and better public education.
Health Minister Bronwyn Pike will today release the report with the Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria website. A spokesman for Ms Pike said the Government recognised that the gay and lesbian community had a unique set of health and wellbeing issues.