National survey reveals mental health burden on First Nations LGBTQA+ youth

Dr Bep Uink smiling at camera in front of large print of red grevillea

Researchers have laid bare the mental health challenges confronting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young people and the factors that help them persist in the face of these impacts.

The Walkern Katatdjin: Rainbow Knowledge national survey is the first of its kind, capturing the mental health of young people across Australia that are both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning or Asexual (LGBTQA+).

It found that nearly half of participants had attempted suicide in their lifetime, and 19 per cent had attempted suicide in the last year.

Alarmingly, more than 90 per cent of the 619 participants reported having high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Participants also reported having low feelings of connection to their spirit and ancestors, to culture, and to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ community.

The project, which was funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council and received additional research funding from Embrace @ Telethon Kids Institute, was led by Aboriginal and Aboriginal LGBTQA+ researchers, Associate Professor Bep Uink (Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, Murdoch University; Telethon Kids Institute) and Shakara Liddelow-Hunt (Telethon Kids Institute; University of Western Australia).

The survey aimed to understand the mental health, social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) and experiences accessing care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young people aged 14-25 years old.

“This study is unique in that we looked at wellbeing through an Aboriginal lens to capture information on how connected young people felt to their community and their culture,” Associate Professor Bep Uink said.

“This helps us further understand why levels of suicide behaviour and psychological distress are so high in this population.

"We were also able to ask about young peoples’ experiences of acceptance among their family and communities.

Some young people feel that their Elders and extended family do not accept their LGBTQA+ identity – this is something that needs to change.”
Associate Professor Bep Uink

Findings of the Walkern Katatdjin (Rainbow Knowledge) Phase 2 National Survey Community Report support community advocates’ calls for urgent action to address suicide risk factors among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young people.

“Our findings confirm what our communities have known for a long time, but capturing these statistics through the survey was an important step. Now that we have this evidence of the burden on our communities, we need action,” Shakara Liddelow-Hunt said.

“The findings shared in this study also demonstrate the need to develop a specific evidence base about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young people’s mental health and SEWB.”

Promisingly, participants reported high levels of connection to their family and kinship networks, and generally good physical health, as well as feelings of belonging to distinct Aboriginal and LGBTQA+ communities.  

Further findings from the survey suggest that support from family, community and Elders, along with a sense of pride in their identities, can improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young people’s SEWB.

The survey and Community Report have been developed with the input and support of the project’s Youth Advisory Group, Governance Committee, partner organisations and supporting organisations across Australia.

Learn more about the important work of the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre
Posted on:

27 Jul 2023

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