QLife: Keeping our LGBTI Communities Connected

QLife: Keeping our LGBTI Communities Connected

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 2 | July 2013

FINN O’KEEFE reports on the launch of a national mental health counselling service for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

A new mental health telephone and online counselling service has been established to support the mental health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the country.

QLife is a national peer-supported service being led by the National LGBTI Health Alliance in collaboration with five state-based gay and lesbian counselling organisations, and with the support of Commonwealth government funding over the next two years.

A federally funded national service targeted to support the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTI community is long overdue. LGBTI people frequently experience stigma and discrimination in the form of abuse, homophobia and transphobia; these factors are directly linked poorer metal health outcomes among the LGBTI community. LGBTI people who are living with HIV are also disproportionately affected; they experience multiple layers of stigma and discrimination, both from society at large as well from within the LGBTI community.

QLife aims to help address these mental health inequities by providing a nationwide, early intervention, peer supported telephone and web based service for LGBTI people experiencing poor mental health, psychological distress, social isolation, discrimination, experiences of being misgendered and/or other social determinants that impact on their health and wellbeing.

On 10 July Senator Jacinta Collins, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, and WA Senator Louise Pratt announced the WA rollout of the service,saying that the Commonwealth would provide $3.3 million of funding for the service over two years.

The service is being funded as part of the Department of Health and Ageing’s Teleweb project, which is designed to support the provision of telephone and online mental health programs to supplement existing face-to-face services around Australia.

Online and telephone support services are especially valuable for people living in rural and remote areas, many of whom experience barriers to access due to a paucity of services in remote locations. Many LGBTI people and people with HIV living in remote areas avoid local services for fear that they may be ‘outed’ in their communities.

QLife will provide LGBTI people multiple avenues to talk about mental health. The service will facilitate easy and anonymous access to information online, as well as offering interactive engagement through video and text-based chat and email. Emailed queries for information will be answered within 24 hours, providing specific information tailored to the individual, such the availabilities of local face-to-face services.

Ross Jacobs, QLife’s Clinical Director, explains that asking for help and support can take many forms. ‘Sometimes, it’s about counselling, but for many people it’s also about a welcoming conversation, a chat about the news or a place to access evidence-based tips available about mental health, at a pace that suits each individual,’ he said.

QLife’s counselling services operate 7 days a week, 365 days a year between the hours of 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm Australia wide.  Phone counselling and web chat services will be provided by hundreds of volunteers around the country engaged in their home-state centres, with national support provided by a small team of paid staff members. Mental health and referral information will be available via the web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

‘These services can go a long way to helping people overcome the negative mental health impacts of discrimination, stigma and social isolation because of their sexual orientation, sex or gender,’ Senator Collins said during her announcement.

‘They will be followed later this year by other QLife services such as online real-time chat support, online forums and an email response service as well as online multi-media mental health information and resources, which will include video and audio formats.’

QLife’s 1800 telephone peer support counselling service is now available across Australia seven days a week between 5:30pm and 10:30pm on 1800 184 527.

QLife will also provide Self Help and a Web-based Support Program (Teleweb) at www.qlife.org.au. Once established, QLife’s online elements will also be accessible through the federal government’s online mental health portal, www.mindhealthconnect.org.au.

Finn O’Keefe is Communications Officer at AFAO and an editor of HIV Australia.