Thoughts / supporting someone

Cards for Same-Sex Marriage

It’d be nice if we didn’t feel the need to make these cards. And maybe that’s why they’re a bit late coming to you. We were in denial that they were necessary. But they are.

I’m ashamed and saddened to admit this. I used to hurl the word “gay” around as an insult. I did it for a really long time. Well past my years in the school yard. Statistics was gay. Home and Away was gay. My outfit was gay. When I burnt the chicken dinner, it was gay. The term had become synonymous with being crap, lame and shithouse. And I regrettably used this term a lot.

And this must have been incredibly awful for anyone around me who was actually gay or suspecting they were.

It had become such a part of my lexicon that it took me a really long time and a very concerted effort to break the habit. But I had to. Here I was, using the word ‘gay’ to insult things or people, implying that I thought there was something wrong with being anything other than heterosexual. I didn’t. But it definitely wasn’t sounding that way. To point out the bleeding obvious, the use of this term in this way has the capacity to completely undermine the confidence of LGBTI people, chipping away at their psyche and reinforcing the nonsense that they are “different” in an inferior, unnatural way. It can make them feel like outsiders.

For a long time, my repurposing of the word as an insult persisted in keeping the LGBTI community separate and different. How hurtful is that?

On a larger scale, I'm feeling much the same way again.

I am ashamed and saddened that our Government has had us engage in a non-binding statistical survey on same-sex marriage. An ‘issue’ that is about equality, discrimination, human rights and inclusion for a vulnerable minority and marginalised group.

I can’t quite believe that we are in this place. That as a country we are conducting a survey, on whether we think one group of people should be able to marry each other, like the rest of us can. Are we so intolerant of this group of people that the only way to decide that they can have equal rights under the law is to do a survey on whether it’s the right thing to do?

But I'm even more been devastated by what it’s become. The homophobia. The harmful stereotyping. The hatred. The ‘freedom of speech’ and the right to a ‘respectful debate’ where all sides ‘have a voice’, has been downright sickening. How must this group of people feel?

Probably, fucking horrendous. Maybe inferior? Separate? Different? And not included?


When we feel that we are included and recognised we are rewarded with a range of health benefits. These include stronger mental health, social cohesion, increased sense of security, improved resilience, increased access to health care and public health benefits. When we are part of a group that experiences social exclusion and/or abuse (e.g., homophobia) we are more likely to experience addiction, self-harm, psychological distress, mental illness, suicide attempts and feeling unsafe.

I’ve quoted these statistics before, but they’re important. So here they are again.

Our Australian LGBTI+ community is already experiencing health effects that are DIRECTLY related to discrimination and exclusion. These include:

  • People who identify as LGBTI have the HIGHEST rates of suicidality of any population in Australia1.
  • 7% of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians report current suicidal ideation (thoughts)2.
  • Same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14 times higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers3.
  • The average age of a first suicide attempt is 16 years – often before ‘coming out’4.
  • Many LGBTI people who attempt suicide have not disclosed their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to others, or to only very few people5.
  • At least 24.4% of gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians met the criteria for a major depressive episode in 2005, compared with 6.8% of the general population6.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to have a high-very high level of psychological distress as their heterosexual peers (18.2% v 9.2%), making them particularly vulnerable to mental health problems7.
  • More than twice as many homesexual/bisexual Australians experience anxiety disorder as heterosexual people (31% vs 14%)8.

And just to reiterate - research shows us that discrimination and exclusion are the key CAUSAL factors of LGBTI+ mental ill-health and suicidality9. That is, the elevated risk of mental ill-health and suicidality among LGBTI people is not due to their sexuality, sex or gender identity in and of themselves. It’s due to discrimination and exclusion as a key determinant to health10. Exposure to and fear of discrimination and isolation can directly impact on people’s mental health, causing stress, psychological distress and suicidality.

AND this is research undertaken BEFORE a vote was undertaken asking us to justify their existence.

Last year, a survey of 1657 Irish LGBTI people was undertaken to investigate the social and psychological impacts of the Irish same-sex marriage referendum by researchers at the University of Queensland and Victoria University. Despite, the same sex marriage debate being ‘won’, the results of the survey were not great.

Nearly three quarters of those surveyed said that the ‘No’ campaign had a highly detrimental impact on themselves, on young LGBTI people and the children of LGBTI people. The survey found 75.5% of participants often or always felt angry when exposed to campaign messages, and two-thirds felt anxious or distress. Younger LGBTI people scored lower on psychological wellbeing compared with older people, including feeling anxious and afraid. Distress was particularly experienced in relation to hearing negative views expressed by family members, friends and colleagues, and seeing posters and television advertisements negatively portraying LGBTI people and their families as deficient or not positive and safe for children.

And unfortunately, UQ’s researcher Sharon Dane concluded that the respondents’ answers to the qualitative questions suggested that the impact of the no campaign was “more than a fleeting experience or something that could be simply undone through a win for marriage equality.”

That’s the thing. We can’t un-see or un-hear the things that are happening right now. They are going to stick with all of us. And they hurt. They are powerful.

I’m so sorry you have to go through this rainbow friends. We love you. We hope you are protecting yourselves and each other.

We’re here for you. Always.

You can find all our cards to support loved ones through the marriage equality debate here

Support, information and resources for the LGBTI+ community and their allies during the marriage equality debate can be found through the following services:

  1. Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney
  1. Pitts, M. et al. (2009). Private Lives: A report on the wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. LaTrobe University: Melbourne.
  2. Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney
  3. Nicholas, J. and J. Howard (1998) Better Dead Than Gay? Depression, Suicide Ideation and Attempt Among a Sample of Gay and Straight-Identified Males Aged 18-24. Youth Studies Australia, 17(4): 28-33.
  4. Dyson, S et al. (2003) Don’t ask, don’t tell. Report of the same-sex attracted youth suicide data collection project. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University. Melbourne.
  5. Pitts, M. et al. (2009). Private Lives: A report on the wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. LaTrobe University: Melbourne.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Unpublished data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing provided to Queensland Association of Healthy Communities in 2010.
  7. Leonard, W. et al. (2012). Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. LaTrobe University: Melbourne.
  8. Rosenstreich, G. et al. (2011) Primary Health Care and Equity: the case of LGBTI Australians Australian Journal of Primary Health, 17(4): 302-308



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    Showing up after suicide

    This week the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures were released about reported causes of death in 2016. And for the first time in some years, we saw a decrease in the number of deaths by suicide. It’s possible that the suicide prevention efforts are making some headway.

    There is still a long way to go. Suicide still remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 years and we are still looking at a figure of nearly 8 Australians per day, dying by suicide.

    This tragedy means that suicide, in some way, is going to continue affecting our lives.

    And if it directly affects the life of someone close to us, let’s make sure we know how to show up.

    Supporting someone who is bereaved by suicide is possibly one of the most challenging things we can go as humans. But, if we can, being present and being supporting, can be invaluable to someone going through the grief process after suicide.

    There are so many reactions a loved one may experience following a suicide. Grief, in general, is a pretty complex and chaotic and terrifying emotional experience. While a wide range of reactions can be anticipated, our response to grief will be as unique an expression as our personality is. The experience of grief can be impacted by other things like pre-existing mental and physical health conditions, our gender, and most importantly, the relationship with the person who has died. Experiences may include, but are not limited to:

    • Anger – towards the person who has died, towards themselves, or towards others
    • Despair – feeling unable to live without the person who has died
    • Guilt – that they couldn’t save/help the person who died
    • Questioning – ‘why’ and ‘what if?’
    • Sadness
    • Shame – feeling that they have done something wrong or because of the stigma attached to suicide
    • Defensiveness – due to the uncertainty of how people will react, fearing judgment
    • Disbelief
    • Numbness
    • Rejection – from the person who died and/or the community
    • Searching – wanting to go to the places the deceased person went or believing they have seen the person
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Fear
    • Physical reactions
    • Relief – if the person has been in pain for an extended period of time
    • Sense of acceptance – they may feel they can accept the person’s wish to due
    • Shock
    • Suicidal thoughts

    Considering that someone bereaved by suicide could feel any or all of these things, we might feel unable to provide adequate support. Or we might struggle to understand the depth of the distress. We might find it difficult to know what to say and feel awkward, uncomfortable and concerned about saying the wrong thing. Let’s stop worrying about ourselves and just show up for them.

    What has been learned from people bereaved by suicide is they really need compassion, empathy, acknowledgment of what has happened and validation of how they are feeling.

    To do this, we really only need to do three things:

    1. Show up
    2. Ask
    3. Listen

    It really is this simple. Firstly, let’s ignore all of those thoughts and feelings which might stop us from being present with the person – ‘I don’t want to make it worse for them’, ‘They don’t need me’, ‘There is nothing I can do anyway’. All BS. Ignore these thoughts and do what you know will be tough and challenging but the most important – show up.

    And then we ask them to talk. If they want. We might ask how they are feeling today. Or if they’d like to chat. Or if they’d just like to hang out. Whatever. An open question would be good here. Don’t avoid the subject of suicide.

    And then we shut up. And we listen. Listen to understand the experience. With patience and compassion and no judgment. By allowing a loved one to express their grief, we are helping. We can’t take away the pain, but we’re enabling part of the process. This is probably the most important bit of the process. For those of us who are more prone to talking than listening, reverse this impulse – try and listen 80% of the time and talk only 20% of the time. Because we are listening, rather than talking it will also mean that we might be less-inclined to do some of the less helpful things (e.g., provide advice, try and compare this to the time our dog nearly died, fill moments with clichés and simplistic explanations for one of the most complex issues).

    And once we’ve done that, we’ll do it again. And again. And again …

    If we do these three things – repeatedly – we have the opportunity to provide the person who is bereaved the following:

    • To be really listened to, heard and understood
    • To receive non-judgmental support
    • An opportunity to tell their story over and over again
    • A safe and supportive environment
    • The capacity to express their grief in their own way

    People bereaved by suicide can feel really alone and isolated. The silence that surrounds the issue of suicide can complicate the experience. Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, it is common for people feel the pain of the loss, yet may not believe they are allowed to express it. By being present, asking the questions, listening and learning, we can provide the comfort of companionship on the most tragic path of sorrow.

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    The Hippo that Acknowledges Frustration

    We made another card! It’s a card for anxiety disorders and this is what it looks like:

    This card wasn’t born out of any clever psychological theory or any observed societal need. It was born out of the honest truth that when someone is experiencing a mental illness it can be really, really frustrating, sad and scary at times. And I’m not referring to the person who has the illness. I’m talking about everyone around them. This card was written for the card givers. (In the hope they’d still give them away to others).

    Finding out that someone close to you has a mental illness can lead to any number of feelings and these feelings can have a serious emotional impact on you. Some loved ones might struggle to find a reason for the illness and wonder if they are in some way responsible, leading to strong feelings of guilt. People might feel angry and frustrated that this is happening, that the illness has become a dominant focus of life and disrupted the normality of the family or friendship group. It can be normal to feel confused as to what the hell is going on and what in the heavens this means. A lot of people report feeling a significant sense of loss and grief. It can be possible to begin grieving the loss of the relationship as it was and the life you had, the opportunities and plans that have now changed and to feel overwhelming sadness as to how much the person that they really, really love has been changed by their illness. Mental illness is still a stigmatised condition and for some people they might feel embarrassed or ashamed about what others might think of themselves and their loved one. And it’s scary. Loved ones are particularly likely to worry about what might happen to a person with a mental illness and if they will ever get better.

    This exhaustive list of emotions is shit. But all of these, or a combination of a few, is a pretty common and normal experience for loved ones to go through when someone close to them has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

    As a supporter of someone with a mental illness, it’s really, really, really important that you acknowledge and talk about these feelings. Whether that’s with your own friends and family, a mental health professional or a support group. Acknowledging these feelings is the first step towards resolving them. It is important to understand that neither you nor the person with the mental illness are to blame for any of these events or feelings. They just are.

    And with this in mind, I wrote this card. The aim was for the supporter to be able to say “OMG, this is just so shit. I am feeling awful and I know you are probably feeling worse and I just wish by magic it could all go away and we could go back to how it was”. But in a way that wasn’t going to make the person with the mental illness feel more guilty/alone/afraid/insert awful consequence of anxiety here. (Obviously I tried to keep it a bit upbeat/empathic/loving).

    Because if you, as the supporter, can acknowledge and move past these common, yet horrendously awful and possibly destructive feelings and develop a more positive attitude, you’ll be able to be such a wonderful support for your friend or family member with a mental illness.

    And really, really nice feelings can come from supporting someone too. So many people reflect on how their love for their friend or partner or relative deepens and a closer bond develops as they venture through experiences such as this. The new relationship you form with your loved-one can bring growth, deeper connections and learning for you both.

    You can find the card here.

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