26 May 2022

The importance of peer leadership in LGBTIQA+ mental health was a recurring theme for speakers at Mind Australia’s inaugural ‘Respect in action’ webinar.

Launched on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), the three-part webinar series is designed to foster conversations and provide an opportunity to learn more about the mental health needs of people from all backgrounds, ages and abilities.

The first webinar in the series looked at the ways in which LGBTIQA+ peer workers inform specialist care. 

The conversation featured Manu Kailom, Peer Support and Community Development Officer with LGBTIQ+ capacity building organisation Many Coloured Sky, and Alex Cuffe and Maya Kjellstrand, Mind Australia Peer Practitioners with the unique Aftercare LGBTIQ+ suicide prevention program.

“We hear stories of poor [mental health] outcomes of LGBTIQA+ people, and particularly at the moment there is a lot of talk in the media about the rights of transgendered people across a number of issues.  This event is about celebrating the leadership of LGBTIQA+ communities over a large period of time and the work they do to support, educate, inform and create change,” Katie Larsen, Mind’s Senior Manager Strategic Reform, said.

Peer work refers to the work of people with a lived experience of mental ill-health and recovery, who use their experiences to support others.

Compared to other forms of mental health care, some unique benefits of peer work include providing hope through positive self-disclosure, role-modelling self-care and skills for negotiating daily life, and the peer relationship – a peer worker’s ability to empathise directly.

Lived experience led mental health services

Maya Kjellstrand, Mind Aftercare peer practitioner, said mental health services need tap into peer-led models to create change and care networks that ultimately will help make mental health support systems safer spaces.

“There is nothing about us without us. We cannot have programs built for us in which we are not absolutely central, in every phase of the implementation and design,” they said.

“It’s really about having people around us understand that we are all experts in our own lives and that there is no professionalisation that can trump that lived experience knowledge.”

“Peer led approaches can broaden connections between communities, peer and professional groups and working health services, allowing for a rapid exchange of information between these groups. This means communities can have up-to-date and relevant information, resources and support that services can quickly adapt to cater to the changing needs of community.”

“I think of peer work as change work; through relationships we can practice seeking and finding new ways of creating and being in community to thrive outside of systems that do not always support our wellness.”

Maya said that poorer health outcomes aren’t inherent to our identities, but instead the consequence of discrimination, social disempowerment, colonisation and the lack of access to relevant services.


Mental health healing outside of a medical model

At Many Coloured Sky, Manu Kailom offers peer support to LGBTIQA+ asylum seekers and refugees from nations where same-sex and gender expression are criminalised. 

Manu spoke about the value of lived experience in mental health care for people who are LGBTIQA+ within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, and their need to be able to connect with people who understand and relate to their experience.

“When we talk about healing when working with people from culturally diverse backgrounds, it means different things. I come from a culture where healing for us, outside of a medical model, is lots of people around you, family ties, community,” Manu said.

“Having a group of people sharing the same experience as me is already a type of healing. There is a power to having lived experience as a model in most systems.”


Specialist LGBTIQA+ peer work

Mind Aftercare peer practitioner Alex Cuffe said that peer relationship and understanding can be a key part of the recovery journey.

“What is healing? It’s abstract, it’s non-linear, it’s wobbly. It’s about story, community, connection, about being relational, about being seen, being witnessed.”

“In my own journey, when I felt seen, and when you feel that sensation of ‘this person gets it’, it’s like a key in the door. Something unlocks that creates connection.”

The next webinar in the Respect in action series will explore the intersections between mental health and social issues including homelessness and poverty. The webinar will be held in August. Date and speakers are to be confirmed. 

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