Sunday, 28 August 2011

Psychologist Paul Martin speaks now

Contributor to Speak Now, psychologist Paul Martin, reports back on his meeting with the Prime Minister in Canberra...

 In my meetings with MP’s and with the Prime Minister in Canberra, one angle that they say is new to them is of the connection between mental health and same sex marriage.  

The information I give them is based on my 25 years as a psychologist specialising in the area of same-sex attraction and the most recent research-based public statements from the American Psychological Association.

I talk to them about the fact that everyone is brought up in a homophobic world and almost everyone who is same-sex attracted will absorb these negative messages and, naturally, will have beliefs about themselves, including being 'defective' and socially excluded. 

The statistics regarding mental and physical health problems in gay and lesbian populations are extremely negative.  This includes recent Australian data which suggests that gays and lesbians are more than 4 times more likely to attempt suicide and have much higher rates of mental disorders and physical health issues.  This is a direct result of ‘internalised homophobia.’

One of the internalised homophobic beliefs is that same sex relationships are not as valid or valuable as their heterosexual peers.

According to the research, and my clinical experience, when the issue of same-sex marriage is debated, the negative rhetoric stated by community leaders leads to psychological distress for gays and lesbians and their children.  This is due to the fact that what they are hearing confirms what they already believe about themselves.   If they were brought up in a society which valued same sex relationships, the non-evidence based words spoken by these people could be easily brushed off as being somewhat silly, or a result of bias and stigma.

Research clearly demonstrates that when heterosexual people value gays and lesbians’ relationships, the psychological wellbeing of those people increases significantly.  In talking with politicians I mention anecdotes of friends of mine from Canada and Norway who say that when they are with a group of people which includes gays and lesbians, the level of worth seems palpably higher as they proudly introduce their husbands and wives and show off their wedding albums.   When they come to Australia they say how amazed they are at the general difference in the levels of wellbeing. They are saddened by the sorts of words they hear spoken by the opponents of same-sex marriage.

The best way to stop this ongoing distress for same-sex attracted people and to automatically and instantly improve their psychological wellbeing is to allow the choice to marry.  This won’t solve the psychological issues overnight, but it will be an important step towards improving the mental health of many thousands of Australians.

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