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'We All Knew': Marriage Postal Survey 'Traumatic' For LGBTQ Community, Study Finds

The 2017 marriage equality campaign led to widespread depression, anxiety and psychological distress among lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians, a landmark study has reported.

But it was also found that the impacts of advertising and campaigning from anti-equality groups were lessened when LGBTQ people were supported emotionally by friends and family.

"More frequent exposure to negative media messages about same-sex marriage was associated with greater psychological distress," reported the study from University of Sydney researchers, published in the Australian Psychological Society’s Australian Psychologist journal.

LGBTQ activist Sally Rugg told 10 daily the report is the "worst kind of I told you so", and she believes the disruption is the reason parliament blocked the vote twice.

"The majority knew this would be stressing and traumatic for the community," said Rugg, who was GetUp's marriage equality campaign director through the survey.

"The survey wasn't necessary, we didn't need it to pass the law."

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The voluntary postal survey was enacted under the Turnbull government as a compromise after failing to legislate a formal plebiscite on the same-sex marriage issue.

The Coalition government had refused to legislate marriage equality until a poll of the Australian public's views on the issue was held, but pro-equality groups and politicians, including the Labor and Greens parties, opposed such a vote.

“We all knew the postal survey was going to cause harm to LGBTIQ+ people,” Greens Senator Janet Rice said on Thursday.

“The postal survey legitimised homophobia and transphobia, it gave a platform to hateful views and speech that would normally not be acceptable in our community."

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Many plebiscite opponents raised fears of how such a process and campaign could impact on the mental health and wellbeing of this community.

Young LGBTQ are five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, and six times as likely to be depressed, according to the National LGBTI Health Alliance.

Phone support hotlines reported spikes in calls for help from LGBTQ people during the campaign.

Marriage equality was supported by 62 percent of voters, and the reform was soon passed in parliament, but the USYD study laid out how damaging the campaign was for many Australians.

"Exposure to such public displays of discrimination during debates about same-sex marriage constitutes a minority stress risk factor for poor mental health," the authors wrote.

A sample of 1300 people -- including lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents -- found that more exposure to negative messages in the media, such as anti-equality ads, were linked to greater psychological distress, anxiety, depression and general stress.

Conversely, respondents reported having greater personal support from friends, family and other networks, as leading to lower levels of such distress.

The Australian Christian Lobby, one of the main groups that campaigned against marriage equality, has been contacted for comment.

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"A minority individual's social network may function to offset the adverse mental health effects of sexuality-related stigma when members central to the network are merely perceived to affirm the individual's sexual identity," the study found.

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The study's lead author, psychology doctoral candidate Stefano Verrelli, said social networks were a key factor in mental health effects.

"The family and friends of same-sex attracted people appear to play an important role -- and seem to even offset some of the harm done by the negative side of these debates -- by openly supporting LGBT rights,” he said.

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Rugg said the one positive of the marriage survey and the USYD study was that it showed how powerful social networks can be in supporting LGBTQ people.

"It's the worst kind of 'I told you so'. Nobody in the community is feeling good about this stuff, but what should be taken as a lesson is the study found people who had support of their family, workplace, club or community, were better off," she told 10 daily.

"I felt that as well. The survey was horrible, but it proved that it's so easy to affirm and include LGBTI people, and that acceptance and support makes a world of difference in our lives."

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The USYD study found seeing positive messages in social media or mainstream media did lead to lessened psychological effects, but "stigmatising media messages" were "significantly more influential than their positive counterparts".

“LGBT rights and mental-health organisations also have an important role to play by continuing their public support of minority issues," the authors wrote.

"Their public messages of support appear to improve the psychological well-being of same-sex attracted people who require it most.”

The study's authors claimed their findings "highlight how legislative processes related to the rights of stigmatised, minority populations have the potential to adversely affect their mental health."

Rice said the study showed "there must never again be a public vote on a matter of human rights."