Researchers from a nationwide study showing gay men and lesbians experience high rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and verbal abuse have blamed the problem on a hostile society and called for law reform and education to deal with the issue.

The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society surveyed about 5,500 LGBT Australians aged between 16 and 92 -“ one of the largest studies of this kind.

Respondents to the Private Lives survey, to be released today, reported higher levels of depression compared with heterosexuals.

And sixteen percent of participants said they had thought about suicide in the two weeks prior to completing the survey.

We were very shocked to find those high rates of depression. In fact, we went back and checked the data twice to make sure that we hadn’t got it wrong. study co-author Anne Mitchell told Sydney Star Observer.

Gay men and lesbians are also regular victims of verbal abuse. Sixty percent of male and 56 percent of female respondents said they had experienced personal insults because of their sexuality.

Nearly 70 percent of participants said they changed their behaviour to avoid such discrimination, and about 90 percent said they refrained from showing public affection to a same-sex partner.

This simple everyday pleasure, which is commonplace among heterosexuals, is clearly seldom safely experienced by same-sex couples, the study said.

But the situation improves as gay men and lesbian grow older, according to the study.

Participants over 45 reported much lower rates of depression than their younger counterparts. They also felt more secure about their sexuality.

It is encouraging to think that people do find their way to a more stable place or a more supportive environment [as they get older], Mitchell said.

However, Mitchell said governments and educators needed to do more to stamp out anti-gay discrimination, which was undermining young gay and lesbian people’s health.

She said many of the health problems identifed in the report were things that appear to be the response to living in a hostile environment.

It really is just crap that kids [have] some very serious health deficits as a result of people’s attitudes, she said.

We do think that greater resources spent on public education around the issues -¦ relationship recognition and better policies in schools are some of the things that lend a legitimacy to same-sex [attracted] people’s lives and relationships and make a big difference to the problems that we see.

We’re very supportive of the law reform that’s been going on and want more of that.

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