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A friend of mine had recently been admitted to the psychiatric ward at the Alfred Hospital after suffering for years from mental health and substance misuse issues. It seemed to be a vicious cycle whereby his anxiety and depression lead him to seek refuge in the misuse of both licit and illicit substances, which in turn intensified his mental health issues. Without knowing where and how to get help, despite many friends attempting to assist, he finally broke.

It is unfortunate that this story is not unique. Individuals within the GLBTI community experience higher rates of poor mental health, such as depression and anxiety, and report higher levels of substance misuse. The issue here is what should you attempt to deal with first if you are suffering from a mental health issue and misusing drugs? Is there a right way to go about it? We didn’t know how to help my friend, and I don’t think he knew where to start.

Recently the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre received funding to deal with the issue of ‘dual diagnosis’, or basically people who are suffering from a mental health issue and misusing drugs. The intended service will focus on GLBTI individuals as our experiences, issues and concerns are unique to that of the wider population. Therefore the services available to us need to be tailored to our unique experiences if they are to be successful and the issues dealt with effectively. As this intended ‘dual diagnosis’ service is not yet up and running, the VAC/GMHC is seeking your input to help develop the most appropriate group therapy program.

The Burnett Institute will be conducting several –  independent – focus groups in March to seek input from GLBTI individuals regarding the design of the program. Basically they want to hear your thoughts on: what you think the main drug and alcohol issues are; what are the most prominent mental health concerns within the GLBTI community; what you would see as the advantages and disadvantages of group therapy; and general ideas regarding the program itself. Focus group participants will be reimbursed $30 for their time and expenses. The discussions are expected to run for approximately one hour, refreshments will be provided and the discussions will be completely confidential.

This is where our community gets to have a say in what they want and how they want it. Your views, insights and experiences can only help to strengthen the way in which mental health and substance misuse is dealt with by and for the GLBTI community.

If you are interested in getting more information, or joining a discussion group and contributing to the design of the therapy program, please contact Hilary or Alyce at the Burnett Institute on 0451 115 126 or email:

with ADAM HYNES   VAC/GMHC Rapid HIV Testing



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