Mental health experts are starting to pay attention to the wellbeing of same-sex attracted youth with the topic firmly on the agenda at an upcoming mental health conference in Melbourne.

Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria director Anne Mitchell told Southern Star drawing attention to gay and lesbian youth mental health issues had proved difficult in the past but things were starting to improve.

“We’ve recently had a few different initiatives like beyondblue having their [GLBTI] roundtable around gay and lesbian issues and also [Victorian mental health minister] Lisa Neville announcing the mental health funding specifically to focus on same-sex attracted young people in the last budget,” she said.

“They are pretty good indications that mainstream organisations are now starting to take notice of these issues and see them as part of the general mental health mix. It’s mostly the work of advocates struggling to get these issues on the mental health agenda but we’ve been pushing them for a long time and they haven’t got as much traction as they’ve got now in the last year or so.”

The international two-day conference — Heads Up! — presented by the youth mental health organisation, headspace, will start on July 29 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry will convene the conference.

Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society associate professor Lynne Hillier — known for her ongoing research on same-sex attracted young people — will address the conference.

Mitchell said there were two main areas of immediate concern for addressing the needs of same-sex youth in Victoria: training and the development of a referral service.

“It doesn’t have to be extensive training but [staff] need to be properly trained to recgonise where same-sex attraction might be part of the mix and to know how to respond,” she said.

“We also need some sort of specialist service that really does have good treatment expertise in relation to same-sex attracted young people. We haven’t got it at the moment so there isn’t anywhere where a general youth worker can ring for consultation.”

The conference will also tackle cyber safety, e-health and drug use.

Studies show same-sex attracted young people are far more likely to self-harm than their heterosexual peers.

A 2009 statement by Suicide Prevention Australia claimed same-sex attracted people of all ages were between 3.5 and 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

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