10 October 2017

Today marks World Mental Health Day.

Mental health is often spoken of with fine, poetic language. But sometimes it's just words on a commemorative day, with little follow up and little action.

On R U OK? Day last month, I spoke in the Parliament about how we are more connected than at any point in our history. We've got access to pretty much anything and anyone through the phone in our hand.

It allows us to produce a curated image of our lives -- a check-in on Facebook, an Instagram video, a selfie on Snapchat.

It's easy enough to look at someone's social media and think they live the perfect life. Nights out, holidays, friends and fun.

But that's just a snapshot. It's not the full picture. It's not reality.


Sometimes we need to scratch beneath the surface and have an actual conversation with our friends about their whole lives -- including the parts they are struggling with. The moments that aren't shared.

By the end of next week, voting in Malcolm Turnbull's marriage equality postal survey will be over. No one who wants marriage equality wanted this $122 million waste of time and money.

We can't pretend this hasn't taken a toll on LGBTQ Australians. Mental health services have reported massive increases in calls asking for help. I get a stack of emails every day from LGBTQ people and families who are struggling -- or worried about the people they love.

We knew this would happen. That's why we fought so hard to skip the survey, and just get on with a decision in the parliament -- just like the way all our other laws are made.

But I've still been surprised at just how deep the hurt is running. The impact of this survey won't end when the voting stops. Not by a long shot.

I've had old friends who have comfortably identified as gay for decades, in committed relationships and raising families, who tell me they feel they are treated as second-class Australians when another advertisement comes on the TV attacking them.

I've had older people telling me they now feel like they did decades ago, before homosexuality was decriminalised.

Parents have told me that their kids have come home from school repeating vile things that they heard in the playground.

Activists are telling me that after years of tireless campaigning, they almost feel like giving up. It's become too exhausting and too painful.

And that's just a small proportion. What about the people who aren't sharing their stories? Is anyone listening to them?

Put yourself in a gay teenager's shoes for a moment. You're already feeling scared, confused and isolated.

You are just scrolling through your Facebook feed and all of a sudden you see someone you know telling the world that you are unnatural, that you are dangerous, that you are not worthy of equality and that it's "okay to vote no".

Just imagine the how that feels. The sick feeling in your guts. The anxiety, the fear. It's heartbreaking -- that someone so young can feel so alone.

This World Mental Health Day let's all acknowledge that our fine words are not enough. Let's all pledge to follow it up with some action.

Let's go the extra mile -- beyond the rainbow filter and the #voteyes hashtag -- to reach out to the people we care about.

Today, I'm shooting off a few texts and emails to some mates who I know might be having a hard time during this survey.

I'm telling them I'm thinking of them.

I'm telling them that I value them. I'm telling them that they aren't alone.

And I'm telling them that Chloe and I voted YES for them.

That's what I'm doing today. I hope you will too.

Because while this is a campaign we don't want to lose, it's also a campaign we can't afford to lose anyone to.

This opinion piece was first published on the Huffington Post on Tuesday, 10 October 2017