Major Grant To Fund Research Into Indigenous LGBTIQ Mental Health


Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Australian Flag

A major grant received by the Telethon Kids Institute will be used to fund research into the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ).

The $716,000 grant for the Institute was announced in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council funding, announced by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt last week.

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Head of Mental Health and Youth research at the Institute, Dr Ashleigh Lin, and fellow Telethon Kids mental health researcher Dr Yael Perry will work with Western Sydney University, the Murdoch University’s Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ suicide prevention not-for-profit Black Rainbow to give a voice to young people whose experiences and needs have until now been poorly understood.

“We know that being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, being young, and being LGBTIQ are all risk factors for poor mental health and suicide, but there’s really not very much known about what happens when you are a member of all three of these groups,” Dr Lin said.

“The research is almost non-existent. However, anecdotally, these young people are often marginalised from the LGBTIQ community.

“There are also cultural concerns that can lead to exclusion from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“This project aims to better understand the social and emotional needs of this vulnerable group and the barriers they face when accessing health services. We will then work with them to co-design appropriate interventions to improve their mental health and wellbeing.”

Dr Lin said it was difficult to say how many young Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 15-24 identified as LGBTIQ, but it was thought the figure likely exceeded 17,000 across Australia.

Black Rainbow founder Dameyon Bonson, who has worked for the past five years to raise awareness of the gap in suicide prevention and the lack of understanding of the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQ people, said the project was “very much needed and very much overdue”.

“The need for research into Indigenous gay and transgender suicide was first recommended 20 years ago, but the fact this is the first time any kind of nationally funded research will actually happen highlights how much this portion of the population has been ignored,” he said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who identify as LGBTIQ are vulnerable to homophobia and to racism, and young people are vulnerable by virtue of their youth.

“This project is a first step in understanding their social and emotional wellbeing and mental health, as well as what can be done to better support them.

“We still have many other age groups that we need to informed about, but this is a great start.”

The Telethon Kids Institute’s project was one of five chosen following a targeted call by the NHMRC for research into Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing, with projects sharing in a total of $5.5 million of funding.

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The three-year project will be conducted in Western Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

In July, research published in the Medical Journal of Australia showed a 33 per cent rise in rates of new HIV transmissions among Indigenous Australians, which experts said could jeopardise Australia’s goal of ending HIV by 2020 if left unaddressed.

In late May, Brisbane’s Open Doors Youth Service launched a new alcohol and other drug support program to assist LGBTIQ Brotherboy and Sistergirl young people.