LGBTI+ Lives in Crisis

Curved grid of rainbow squares with some squares missing and others outside the grid


Andrea Waling, Gene Lim, Sheila Dhalla, Anthony Lyons & Adam Bourne

The Understanding LGBTI+ Lives in Crisis research project, winner of the La Trobe University 2021 Excellence in Research Impact Award, sought to examine experiences and barriers to accessing acute mental health support services for LGBTIQA+ communities, a population known to face disproportionately high levels of mental ill-health and suicidality.

In 2018-2019, ARCSHS collaborated with the Lifeline Research Foundation, ACON Foundation and QLife on a research study exploring LGBTIQA+ experiences of using crisis support and counselling support services.

The findings of the study noted that an overwhelming proportion (71%) of LGBTIQA+ people chose not to use a crisis support service during times of crisis or distress. Over half of these participants relied on peers or self-coping methods instead, including self-harm or alcohol and other drug consumption.

Not using a service was commonly linked to concerns about experiencing discrimination while already feeling at risk or vulnerable. The findings of this work have significant implications for the development and management of crisis support and mental health and counselling support services for this population group, particularly as LGBTIQA+ people endure higher rates of mental health distress and suicidal ideation in comparison to the general population. Such rates are due to systemic and everyday experiences of discrimination, harassment, and violence.

The study has highlighted a significant problem that has since gained the attention of organisations and governments across the country. Outputs from this project continue to contribute significant impact at both government and community levels regarding mental health and LGBTIQA+ people in Australia.

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Associated publications

The project has produced a number of publications in addition to the main report, including:

The experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual people accessing mental health crisis support helplines in Australia

Trans and Gender-Diverse peoples’ experiences of crisis helpline services

The findings of the project also supported an additional research project, Lean on Me:

Lean on Me: Exploring suicide prevention and mental health-related peer support in Melbourne's LGBTQ communities

2021 Excellence in Research Impact Award

In 2021, Understanding LGBTI+ Lives in Crisis was awarded the La Trobe University Excellence in Research Impact Award, given to researchers who successfully translate their research for maximum impact. Some of the project's applications and influences so far include:

Policy, strategic and legislative impact

The findings of Understanding LGBTI+ Lives in Crisis were used by numerous LGBTIQA+ and mainstream organisations in submissions to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (2021) and were featured across the Royal Commission’s Interim Report and the Final Report (Volumes 1-3) to support changes to the mental health system in Victoria that address the needs of LGBTIQA+ people.

These changes include ensuring that services are safe, inclusive and funded to support the LGBTIQA+ population. The then Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, Ro Allen, made special reference to this body of work in their witness statement to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. This was echoed in the recent Strategic Framework for Suicide Prevention in NSW 2018-2023 (Mental Health Commission of New South Wales), the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations’ submission to The National Preventative Health Strategy (2020), and Suicide Prevention Australia’s National Policy Platform (2020), which contributes to the development of important recommendations to better support suicide prevention for this community.

This work has also been used to support submissions into numerous government inquiries, including the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health (2020), which highlighted concerns about LGBTIQA+ people not using crisis support services during times of crisis.

Local governments have also adopted the findings. For example, Hobsons Bay Council’s strategic framework, A Fairer Hobsons Bay for All (2019-2023), draws on the project’s findings to contribute to initiatives supporting LGBTIQA+ residents.

Understanding LGBTIQ+ Lives in Crisis has also been used in submissions to changes to the Equal Opportunity Religious Bodies Amendment Bill 2020 (SA) and the Religious Freedom Bills package (National), which note the need to protect LGBTIQA+ people from discrimination by religious institutions.

The work was also used to help secure Victorian state funding ($25m) for the newly established Victorian Pride Centre, and for Switchboard Victoria’s Rainbow Door program ($400k recurring annually).

The project’s findings have also influenced policies adopted by international medical organisations, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Position Statement on Recognising and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of LGBTIQA+ People.

Communities and services impact

National organisations such as LGBTIQA+ Health Australia, Lifeline Australia and Suicide Prevention Australia have drawn on the study’s findings to support their ongoing suicide prevention work and LGBTIQA+ inclusive practice programs and resources.

Other LGBTIQA+ organisations, including QLife (National), ACON Foundation (New South Wales) and Switchboard (Victoria), have also benefitted from the research to support their work in mental health services and suicide prevention support to LGBTIQA+ people.

Mainstream organisations such as the Mental Health Coordinating Council (New South Wales) and Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia have also featured the research to support their work in LGBTIQA+ inclusion.

Pathway to impact

The Understanding LGBTI Lives in Crisis Report was promoted through multiple avenues, including a media release, a Fairfax syndicated article by study chief investigator Dr Andrea Waling, LGBTIQA+ community and youth-focused radio appearances, and direct sharing with LGBTIQA+ organisations (including at Rainbow Network workshops for organisations and practitioners), with a successful call to action for further sharing.

Academic impact

The report is now listed as recommended reading for a University of Tasmania undergraduate course in the Faculty of Education, which will support future generations of teachers and educators who may work with LGBTIQA+ young people.

The findings of this work supported additional research and knowledge exchange with the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network in 2020-2021 and community organisations that include Flat Out, Thorne Harbour Health, Undercurrent Victoria, Switchboard, Zoe Belle Gender Collective and Beyond Blue.

This included the Lean on Me project, funded by the North Western Primary Health Network, where researchers examined the ways LGBTQA+ people provide peer support for suicide prevention in the community.

The Lean on Me: Exploring suicide prevention and mental health-related peer support in Melbourne’s LGBTQ communities Report has appeared on national and international websites, including Genderqueer Australia (Australia) and the Centre for Suicide Prevention (Canada).

In conjunction with LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, a webinar exploring the findings of the Lean on Me study was held on November 12, 2022:

Funding & partnerships

Lifeline Australia logo, featuring concentric rings of dots mimicing the holes an old-fashioned telephone receiver, with the text 'Lifeline, Saving Lives, Crisis Support. Suicide Prevention.This research was funded by the Lifeline Research Foundation, seeking to provide better crisis counselling to LGBTI+ people, and carried out in partnership with ACON and QLife.