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Busting down barriers

Posted in: Living Well, Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 2nd October 2012

stevens_and_macdonald.jpg
Joey Macdonald (left) and Michael Stevens (right)
Two Aucklanders are paving the way for a change in mental health and addiction services, in an effort to make them much friendlier the many from our communities who need their help.

Michael Stevens and Joey Macdonald are the Rainbow Community Liaison and Training Team, based at Affinity Services.

Stevens is a sociologist at Auckland University and blogger on GayNZ.com. Macdonald is a community worker and Chair of GenderBridge.

They have two specific roles in their new job. One is for the pair to go into mental health organisations in Auckland and train their staff about issues within the glbti communities, so that when gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex people access mental health services they get treated by staff who understand them much better.

They also act as community liaisons, for queer people who want access to mental health or addiction services.

“We’re like a referral service,” Macdonald explains. “We don’t take clients ourselves, or do counselling, or immediate support work in that way. But we do try and help people work out which service would be most appropriate and open the doors.”

Macdonald says not knowing whether a service is queer-friendly can be a huge barrier to someone accessing it.

The initiative has been funded by the Auckland District Health Board for three years on the back of the study “Let’s Talk About Sex (Sexuality and Gender)” by researchers Diana Rands and Anna Birkenhead. They found 26 per cent of the users of Auckland community mental health centres they surveyed identified as being ‘somewhere’ in the rainbow community.

The majority said they had never been asked about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many also felt their clinician was not skilled or experienced in working with glbti people.

“The point was really that then they could say, yes, there are people already in your services, that if you up-skill your staff, that will be really positive for. And for other people that might be coming in,” Macdonald says. “Not to mention for the staff themselves.”

Stevens adds that we know from research across the globe that people in our communities are represented much more highly in things like depression, suicide and drug and alcohol addiction. “We know it’s a fact and there is nothing anywhere in New Zealand that’s been dedicated to it, so this is the first time this has happened. So it’s really positive.”

Macdonald says Rands and Birkenhead, who are both extensively experienced in the mental health and addiction sectors, offered practical guidelines which he and Stevens can now turn into training for mental health services.

While they’re there to help guide people into the correct services, and even come along to a session or two as supporters, they make it clear they’re not counsellors, clinicians or therapists themselves.

“If people are in real trouble they can call a crisis team,” Macdonald explains. “If it’s that level of need then that’s something we’d immediately recommend. But along with Rainbow Youth, OUTLine and Body Positive, and other community organisations, we can talk to people about the information and places they might want to go, even if they’re not seeking a direct entry to mental health services.”

While they haven’t had the job that long, and say there is a lot to be done, they say there are some organisations which are already making change.

“Ultimately we’d like to see the training spread out sector-wide across the country,” Stevens says. “It should be part of mandatory training in mental health and addiction services that they are briefed on how to deal with people coming from our communities. Because if we can’t be frank about who we are when we’re in a therapeutic situation then we’re not going to get the best therapeutic outcome, which would be self-defeating. We need to know the services are safe from people from our communities to be who they are.”

They’d like things to well on their way to that stage by the time the three year contract ends.


Jacqui Stanford - 2nd October 2012

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