Victoria’s mental health royal commission has recommended an after-care service for LGBTQI persons following a suicide attempt and full funding for Switchboard’s Victoria’s Rainbow Door program. The measures that form part of the 65 recommendations by the royal commission are aimed at saving the lives of vulnerable LGBTQI persons. 

The royal commission found that Victoria’s mental health system had deteriorated over the years and was largely operating in “crisis mode”. 

“The findings of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System will affect each and every Victorian both personally and professionally, including all of us who are part of LGBTIQ+ communities,” said Ro Allen, Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities.

“We have long known that LGBTIQ+ Victorians face poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes than the general population.”

The report, that was tabled in the state Parliament on Tuesday, said that each year one in five Victorians experienced a mental illness and almost half of Victorians will experience mental illness once in their lifetime. Around three percent of Victorians or more than 200,000 people meet the criteria for “severe mental illness” that includes schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the report said.

Mental Health System In Victoria Is Failing

“The present system is not designed or equipped to support the diverse needs of people living with mental illness or psychological distress, families, carers and supporters, let alone to cope with unforeseen pressures that may arise. The 2019–20 severe bushfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic shone further light on the pressures on the mental health system,” said the report. 

Often, people experiencing mental illness have their “human rights breached through compulsory treatment and the use of seclusion and restraint.”

In 2019, Victoria reported 718 deaths by suicide.  “Some groups in the community are affected by suicide more than others, for example, men, people living in rural and regional areas, Aboriginal people, and LGBTIQ+ people,” the report said. 

Royal Commission Makes 65 Recommendations

Among its 65 recommendations, the report identified that the needs of vulnerable LGBTQI communities should be addressed by strengthening their support to navigate and access the system.  

As part of the initiatives to support people at risk of experiencing suicidal behaviours, the commission recommended “co-producing an aftercare service for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer and questioning people following a suicide attempt.”

The commisson also recommended that “by the end of 2021, provide recurrent funding to Switchboard Victoria to deliver its Rainbow Door program, at scale, to support people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer and questioning to navigate and access the mental health and wellbeing system.”

Harriet Shing, the first openly lesbian MP in the Victorian Parliament tweeted “every recommendation to be accepted and implemented”.

Ro Allen acknowledged that the report would be difficult for some. “Many of us have lived experience with the mental health system, either for ourselves, our family members, friends or colleagues, while for others it will need attention as part of our day to day work.”

“The report’s focus on intersectionality, early intervention and system-wide change will further support the development of Victoria’s first ever LGBTIQ+ Strategy which is due for release at the end of 2021,” added Ro Allen.

LGBTQI People Some Of The Most At-Risk Population

Joe Ball, CEO of Switchboard Victoria welcomed the commission’s report. “Today marks a historic day for LGBTIQA+ people across Victoria struggling with mental health. The recommendation to fully fund Rainbow Door seven days a week for the next five years shows how critical access to safe support is for our community,” said Ball in a statement. 

“The need for culturally appropriate and safe mental health support is crucial for our community. Nationally, over one in three LGBTIQA+ have considered attempting suicide, a rate that is 20 times higher than the general population,” revealed Ball adding that though LGBTQI people were some of the most at-risk population, they were often hesitant to seek support for fear of discrimination or harassment. 

“For this reason, 71 percent of LGBTQI+ people did not reach out to a crisis support service in a time of need, even though 68 percent could name up to five crisis support services,” they informed. 

“As Victoria entered months of lockdown many people in our community, such as young people with unsafe home environments, turned to Rainbow Door to get information and support for services that were inclusive and safe for them. Since its commencement in September 2020, Rainbow Door provided over 4,200 instances of support for a range of issues including family violence, sexual assault, mental health, suicide, homelessness and social isolation,” said Ball while calling upon the Victorian government to commit to the funding for Rainbow Door. 

Aftercare Service Specific To LGBTIQ+ People

The commission acknowledged that studies showed that that LGBTQI persons needed services that were inclusive. 

“People from the LGBTIQ+ community who are at risk of suicide need a culturally safe and uninterrupted care pathway to support their recovery. It has been submitted to the Commission that there is a need for a statewide LGBTIQ+ community-controlled aftercare service (services for people who are experiencing suicidal behaviour or who have attempted suicide) for the most at-risk help-seekers to ensure they do not fall through the gaps,” the commission noted.

“In addition to a range of preventative measures, such as workforce and gatekeeper training, the Commission recommends that the Suicide Prevention and Response Office co-produces an aftercare service specific to LGBTIQ+ people, to be offered following a suicide attempt, that is tailored to young people and adults,” the commssion said. 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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