Youth mental health body Headspace will soon launch a new LGBTQ-specific online peer support service, looking to give young gay people assistance in coming out and dealing with personal issues.
The new service, Qheadspace, will be an anonymous online chatroom staffed by both gender and sexuality diverse (GSD) peer support leaders and professional Headspace counsellors. Users can log on, ask questions about how the peer support leaders navigated their youth -- from topics like being confused about their sexuality, coming out to parents and friends, sex, and LGBTQ support services -- or simply watch the discussion as it develops. Headspace counsellors will be on hand to provide more in-depth support or referrals if needed.
Vikki Ryall, Headspace's head of clinical practice, told The Huffington Post Australia that peer support services were a valuable addition to Headspace's existing offerings and could provide invaluable guidance and advice for young LGBTQ people.
"Young people telling their story to other young people, talking about their experiences, is a very valuable way to understand what getting help can look like, and encouraging it in a way health professionals just can't do," she said.
"Clinically we call it normalising and validating. I can say that I've seen other young people and given them advice, but it's not the same as someone saying they have felt the same, had the same things happen to them."
The service is set to launch in early March, with the chat room to be available online at regular intervals -- either monthly or fortnightly, Ryall said.
"It will be a complement to our professional services, rather than a replacement. There's good evidence around peer support fitting into early intervention and support mechanisms really well," she said.
"It's a nice soft option. If a young person has just come out, is wondering about coming out, exploring sexuality and gender, this is a great space for them to have some conversation."
Charlie Cooper is one of Headspace's youth national reference group members, and spearheaded the Qheadspace initiative. He told HuffPost Australia young LGBTQ people may feel more comfortable speaking openly in such an anonymous forum, and speaking to other LGBTQ people who have already dealt with the situations which young people are worried about.
"Hands down the most terrifying conversation I've ever had was coming out to family and friends. If I could have spoken to someone who's been through it, that would have been huge, and reduced years of anxiety and stress for me," he said.
"Headspace and other services are a great place to start but many people might not want to talk to a clinician, but prefer to talk to someone who understands. It's really powerful to talk to someone who experienced it and came out the other side."
Cooper said young LGBTQ people, especially in rural areas, may be intimidated or unable to access face-to-face services.
"Queer young people need to know more than ever that services are available for them. There's a fear of having to come out to a clinician, so to talk to someone from your own home, anonymously, is huge," he said.
"It allows young people who don't feel safe to access face-to-face support, to get that from an anonymous space. It's huge for young people in rural areas, outside big cities, who won't have the luxury of many health services which are openly queer-inclusive. In some areas there is still stigma around LGBTQ mental health, they're maybe five or 10 years behind in arguments around equality and inclusiveness, and from conversations I've had with people in rural areas, they are finding it much harder to come out."
Qheadspace is due to launch in March. For more, see Headspace's website.