• Santa Teresa Aboriginal Community, 80 kilometres to the east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Kids play on the town oval. (AAP)Source: AAP
Mental health issues facing the LGBTI community have reached crisis point, with rural Australia suffering the most. What can we do to help?
Lachlan Beaton

12 Nov 2015 - 12:01 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2015 - 2:33 PM

Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-44 . Young males in rural areas are almost two times more likely to end their life by suicide than their urban counterparts. The number rises to six times in very remote areas. The pattern is stark and confronting.

In my home town, you’d be a lucky to find a person who could help face-to-face. One of the biggest issues facing mental health support services that do exist is how they handle LGBTI youth at-risk.

The statistics are frightening. Same-sex attracted Australians are up to 14 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. The average age of a first attempt for an LGBTI youth is 16, often before “coming out”.  This at-risk time of a young gay person’s life is when they most need help, but it’s not being delivered. And often, it's not the fault of the service provider.

I feel so blessed to have grown up in rural Australia; a limitless playground, farm animals and fresh air. But LGBTI youth in these areas fear discrimination or rejection, and a breach of confidentiality if they do reach out for help.

Daniel Witthaus is one of the people attempting to combat this. His movement, “Beyond That’s So Gay”, has been educating rural communities around Australia for a number of years.

Witthaus is on a mission to eliminate homophobia in Australia. He embarked on an incredible 38-week journey in 2010, taking his anti-homophobia training to schools, organisations and individuals.  

He can talk at length about how service providers have never had a professional conversation about LGBTI issues - and don’t know where to go to find more information. He said that LGBTI people are most at-risk of harming themselves in the six months prior to coming out or in response to a negative reaction to them coming out.

This begs the question of how services can help if they're unable to identify at-risk LGBTI youth? Conversations, Witthaus says. Ensuring LGBTI issues are “normal” issues and talked about more often will ensure youth feel OK to confront it and service providers be bold enough to help.

Witthaus recalls stories about community members, such as police officers, encouraging discussion about LGBTI issues in rural areas to ensure youth don't become a statistic. This is how we confront the problem.

The government can be proud of funding organisations like headspace, which tackle these issues head-on. But it's up to the broader community to foster an environment where youth feel comfortable enough to seek them out for assistance in the first place.

Lachlan Beaton is a writer and youth mental health advocate. He has worked as a freelance public affairs specialist for more than a decade, and most recently worked on a number of local campaigns highlighting the issues associated with inequality.

Need to talk?

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact the support hotlines below or follow @LifelineAust @OntheLineAus @kidshelp @beyondblue @headspace_aus @ReachOut_AUS on Twitter.