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An awkward omission

How LGBTI+ young people almost missed a mention in national plan

Article in Review: Wishart, M., Davis, C., Pavlis, A. & Hallam, K. (2020). Increased mental health and psychosocial risks in LGBQ youth accessing Australian youth AOD services, Journal of LGBT Youth, DOI: 10.1080/19361653.2019.1663335

Summary & relevance: We are acutely aware of the increased risks that face LGBTI+ young people in Australia. Yet alarmingly, the particular vulnerabilities of this group were not presented in a draft plan to promote the health of children and young people. This was another example of how this group is typically neglected in both studies and planning.


A 2018 study (Pienaar, Murphy, Race and Lea) found that the rates of substance use and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) related hard among LGBTIQ+ young people was “inherently problematic” and of “significant public health concern”.

In their 2020 article Wishart, Davis, Palvis and Hallam determined that LGBQ young people are among the most marginalized of all young people. They found that same-sex attracted young people who identify as LGBQ reported more family dysfunction, had experienced more abuse and experienced more violent crime. They had significantly more substance-related harms and a greater severity in their substance use. The LGBQ group in this study also demonstrated poorer psychological health and quality of life and was more likely to have reported mental illness and non-suicidal self-injury.

Studies of at-risk LGBTI+ young people to date have typically had a sample population who are connected to education, housing or social services. This means that there could young people who are disconnected from educational and social-cultural supports and not even considered within the research.

When the Australian Federal Government drafted its first National Action Plan for the Health of Children and Young people 2020-2030 there was no reference at all of the specific needs of this particular high-risk cohort of young people.

This plan was announced in 2018 by Health Minister Greg Hunt, with the intent of building on the existing National Strategic Framework for Child and Youth Health. When the draft was released in early 2019, Equality Australia questioned why LGBTI young people were “not mentioned in the draft action plan at all”, an omission they labelled as “awkward” when so much is known about the increased risks faced by LGBQ young people. The draft plan put to the consultation on the Health Department’s website listed four priority populations:

  • Children and young people from rural and remote areas
  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children and young people
  • Children and young people born into poverty
  • Children and young people living with a disability

However, after community consultation, the final document a further six priority groups have been added:

  • Children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – including those from refugee and asylum seeker families
  • Children and young people who experience violence and/or abuse
  • Children and young people living in out of home care
  • Incarcerated children and young people
  • Children and young people who experience homelessness
  • Children and young people who identify as LGBTI+

These critical edits have been made in the plan along with the inclusion of some alarming statistics about the comparative health and wellbeing of young Australians who identifying as LGBTI+. They are significantly more likely than non-LGBTI+ Australians to have a high or very high level of psychological distress and have the highest rate of suicide of any group in the country, with the average age of a first suicide attempt being 16 years.

It is now a priority that health, education and support providers work to address the significantly higher prevalence of mental health conditions and suicide among LGBTI+ children and young people. Services should be designed with inclusion at their core, to prevent this at-risk group from missing out once again. It is so important that LGBTI+ children and young people feel accepted and heard, and are given access to support services operating with inclusive practices and with a commitment to improving wellbeing for this vulnerable group.

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