Better supporting LGBTI people in a crisis

Picking up the phone to call a crisis hotline is often the first, and hardest, step in getting help.

Getting past the critical inner voice that tells you that you are not worthy, that the person on the other line will not care about – or understand – what you are going through, that you don’t want to bother them.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to overcome.

But for LGBTI people, this is only one of many barriers faced in accessing crisis support services during a time of need.

More than a year on from the same-sex marriage vote, some members of the LGBTI community are still reeling from messages of prejudice and discrimination swirling around at that time.

This is alongside a lifetime of discrimination and abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We know from research that LGBTI people already experience higher rates of suicidal ideation, self-harm and poor mental health. And yet our recent research has shown that an alarming number of LGBTI people choose not to use crisis services.

More than 71 per cent of LGBTI Australians did not reach out to services, such as Lifeline, for help during their most recent personal or mental health crisis. Why is this?

The anticipation of discrimination prevents many LGBTI Australians from using mainstream crisis support services.

During a time of distress, they just don’t want to run the risk of potentially getting someone on the line who could be anti-LGBTI. They are worried about having to spend their time educating an uninformed crisis support worker on LGBTI issues.

Finding a safe place to chat or use a computer is particularly an issue among young LGBTI people who may still live at home and not yet be out to their family.

Many feel as though they are a burden and underserving of help. They are left to feel alone and isolated during a time of need. We need to keep working towards making health and related services safe for LGBTI people.

More effort needs go into training mainstream crisis services to be more LGBTI inclusive.

These crisis services need to work with LGBTI health and community organisations to ensure that such services are safe, welcoming and supportive.

No one should feel afraid to use a crisis support service.

Dr Andrea Waling is a Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, at La Trobe University.

Lifeline: 13 11 14