National youth mental health foundation Headspace will launch a gay and lesbian targeted campaign in the coming weeks.

As debate over beyondblue’s seeming lack of interest in gay and lesbian mental health issues escalates, Headspace has promised to better equip its national walk-in centres and counsellors to deal with gay and lesbian mental health problems.

Headspace CEO Chris Tanti told Southern Star the inspiration came from watching this year’s Mardi Gras parade.

“What I’m interested in is having a consistent approach to this community in all our centres … [to] be sure that no one drops the ball on this issue, because it’s a critical issue,” Tanti said.

“Young people are frequently being ignored in health service delivery. They’re in that in-between phase of childhood and adulthood and for the most part people think they’re well.”

Tanti said Headspace has been in discussions with other gay and lesbian health groups, but was still formulating a plan to address community mental health issues.

“We are ramping it up … and we will in the next couple of weeks come out with a much more formal and in-your-face sort of a campaign around GLBTI issues,” he said.

Tanti said he was also hopeful of working with beyondblue, despite recent criticism of the national depression initiative.

“I guess what the activists are saying is this needs to be front and centre,” he said.

“It’s important for the community to let the service providers know they’re not happy, and the service providers have a responsibility to respond.”

Research from the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society consistently shows sexuality-questioning youth to be at higher risk of depression and self-harm.

A report released by Suicide Prevention Australia last year showed gays and lesbians were between three and 14 times more likely to attempt suicide, and more likely to commit acts of self-harm than their heterosexual peers.

“We know there are particular sections of the community that have more need and have more urgency around the issues they’re dealing with,” Tanti said.

“We need to make sure our centres are operating in a way that is comfortable enough for those people to approach.”

WayOut Project coordinator Sue Hackney welcomed Headspace’s commitment, but said an integrated approach was needed to combat a general climate of homophobia.

“It needs to be a two-tiered approach,” she said. “You can’t just fix someone and then put them back into a hostile environment.

“You need to work with the community to actually change the environment young people are living in, which can be much more challenging than just changing service delivery.”

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