New mental health program helps lgbtqia+ people navigate the ‘minefield’ of mainstream health services

Released on 17th December 2020

A new program aims to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people living in the North Western Metro Melbourne region by guiding them to culturally safe health and wellbeing services and providing low intensity mental health and wellbeing support.   

cohealth’s Elevate program, in partnership with Zoe BellGender Collective, pairs LGBTQIA+ people with ‘peer Navigators’ who are also a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and have a lived experience of mental ill health, to help them navigate the health system and connect with appropriate support. 

Elevate was established as part of efforts to address the high rate of mental health issues in the LGBTQIA+ community, a result of the community’s experiences of stigma and discrimination, and compounded by a lack of safe and appropriate mainstream health services. 

A national survey of LGBTQIA+ Australians released in November by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society paints an alarming picture, with more than half of the participants (57%; n = 3,818) reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress, four times higher than in the general population. 

The ARCSHS report also revealed that people from the LGBTQI+ community suffered generalised anxiety disorder and depression at 10 times the rate of those in the general population (40 per cent of participants reported having been diagnosed with depression in the last 12 months, and 33 per cent reported having been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder) 

Jordi, one of the Elevate peer navigators, says that navigating the health system can be a minefield for people who identify as LGBTQIA+. 

“At mainstream services, while there might be one professional who has the skills needed to provide a safe and positive experience, there is often a lack of awareness of needs at every level of the service, so walking in the door or making a phone call may still be unsafe,” said Jordi, cohealth peer navigator. 

“Community members often hide their identity in order to be able to access mainstream services, which creates additional stress,” they said. 

“A whole of organisation approach and whole of staff training is needed for a service to be able to provide a safe and inclusive service,” said Jordi. 

“When I meet with an Elevate client for the first time, there’s often an affinity because of our shared experience. Of course, everyone’s experience is unique, and we’re not a homogenous group of people, but discrimination, social exclusion and fear of judgement are sadly a common experience for us.” 

“There is greater need for LGBTQIA+ inclusive mental health support than ever before. Some of the current debates around gay conversion therapy are hurtful and damaging, and after a year of social isolation away from our community, people’s mental health is really suffering,” said Jordi. 

Bronwyn Massie, cohealth Mental Health Practice Excellence coach, said, “Paradoxically, those in the LGBTQIA+ community experience poorer mental health than the general population, and yet are less able to receive appropriate help. The Elevate program aims to tackle that disconnect.  

“People who identify as LGBTQIA+ often receive judgement, heteronormative treatment and a lack of understanding from mainstream health professionals. Our peer navigators help guide them to practitioners and programs that are safe, she said. 

The Elevate program is supported by funding from North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network through the Australian Government’s PHN Program. 

How can people get involved with Elevate? 

For more information or to talk to an LGBTQIA+ Peer Worker, call us on 03 9448 5554 or email us at 

What is the process of engaging? 

One of our Peer Navigators will talk to you about the program and what is important to you and together create a plan to support your needs. 

You can engage with the program in whatever way works best for you, including: 

  • In person 
  • Phone 
  • Email 
  • Video-conference 

Who can come to elevate? (ages, demographics etc) 

Elevate is available to LGBTQIA+ people 18 + years who live or are connected to north, western and metro Melbourne and who: 

  • May experience lower intensity mental health distress 
  • May be at risk of being socially isolated or experience discrimination 
  • May experience difficulty navigating the service system. 

Other mental health support  

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 – 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services 
  • QLife 1800 729 367 – 3pm – midnight every day, LGBTI peer support and referral 
  • Rainbow Door Vic  1800 729 367 – 10am-6pm every day, support, advice and referral. 

— Ends — 

More information: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.  

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