The number of people accessing gay and lesbian mental health services has increased by 8 percent in the past year, but volunteer services are struggling to keep up with demand.
According to a report released by Suicide Prevention this year, gay and lesbian people are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, and are more likely to perform acts of self-harm.
Another study from the National Centre in HIV Social Research, which compared rates of depression between HIV-positive and negative men, produced similarly alarming results. A quarter of the gay men who took part in the study were found to be suffering from severe depression. That rate rose to 30 percent among positive men.
ACON’s counselling and enhanced care manager, Kerry Saloner, said the reasons for such high incidences of mental health problems remain the same — living with the compounded affects of homophobia and a wariness of mainstream health services. Increasingly, those people are turning to community services.
“It could be due to increased mental health literacy — our community’s more aware of the need to address the early signs of symptoms,” Saloner said. “They’re seeking help for stress or early signs of anxiety or depression, and they’re being encouraged to do that rather than waiting till it becomes less manageable.
“It could also mean an increase in mental ill health in the community that could be a response to a range of factors, one being the global financial crisis. I don’t know how much we attribute to that but we have seen an increase in people asking for assistance around social, financial and legal issues, and more people coming to counselling saying they’ve been retrenched.
“ACON’s taking some steps by employing a diversity officer to get more GLBT training and diversity training taking place so that services can become more friendly but services need to start moving away from heterosexist ways of operating.
“At the same time, we need to be talking to our communities and empowering them to be assertive and get what they need .”
Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service co-president Tim Errington considers the problem to be more than a funding issue.
“We always need more volunteers, but our biggest issue is getting them through the training course and being able to support them,” he told Sydney Star Observer.
“We don’t have an answer for that yet… Right now it’s because it’s quite time-intensive to get to the point where you can fly alone. Quite a few people never make it. They decide it’s too hard or work out that telephone counselling isn’t what they thought it was going to be.”
To counter this, the GLCS is looking to implement new services, away from their traditional phone counselling technique. Errington said group counselling sessions and social activities that allow people to socialise away from pubs and clubs are potential initiatives for 2010.

info: For help or to become a volunteer with the GLCS visit www.glcsnsw.org.au. To get in contact with an ACON counsellor visit www.acon.org.au or phone 9206 2000.

info: During Mental Health Week, Carers NSW, ACON and GLCS will be holding forums on Depression and Recovery. On October 7 the forum is on Wellbeing and on October 8 the forum is on Depression. Both forums start at 6.30pm and are at the Rex Centre, 58A Macleay St, Kings Cross.

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