Rainbow Bridges: Improving mental health services for the LGBTQIA+ and CALD intersection

headspace Sunshine appreciates that being a part of the LGBTIQA+* and/or CALD** community comes with a whole range of complex, nuanced and unique experiences. We recognise that in order for us to improve access to our mental health services and understand the needs of young LGBTIQA+ people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, we must be proactive in seeking out these insights. The Rainbow Bridges Project seeks to do exactly that, and we'd appreciate it so much if you can help us in this journey.


*LGBTIQA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Diverse, Intersex, Queer, Asexual, Questioning and other queer identifying community.

**CALD stands for "Culturally and Linguistically Diverse'' and is an umbrella term for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in Australia who are migrants or descendants of migrants. (e.g. Thai, Vietnamese, Sudanese etc.)

What is the Rainbow Bridges project?

headspace Sunshine is ran the Rainbow Bridges Project; an LGBTIQA+ youth peer-led scoping project that seeks to identify the unique needs of CALD LGBTIQA+ young people and their families in the Brimbank Area.

The Rainbow Bridges Project is led by our Rainbow Bridges Leadership Group (RBLG), which consists of 8 young community members from Brimbank, Wyndam and Moonee Valley areas who identify as LGBTIQA+. The RBLG were leads in the co-design community consultation with CALD LGBTIQA+ young people to hear their stories and identify priority needs. Armed with these valuable community stories, the RBLG has co-design strategies, alongside representatives from the community awareness and clinical teams, to increase the relevance of community awareness activities, clinical practice and support for CALD LGBTQIA+ young people and their family. From the consultations, they wrote a report and we encourage you to read it here and let us know your thoughts at headspaceSunshineCommunity@orygen.org.au.

Why do we need this project?

  • The Brimbank area has developed into one of the most culturally diverse areas of Australia, with 47.8% of its residents born overseas and over 160 different languages. Approximately 31% of the young people who attend headspace Sunshine identify as LGBTIQA+.
  • LGBTIQA+ young people have significantly higher levels of suicidality, depression and substance misuse. Despite the increased vulnerability of LGBTIQA+ young people to suffer poorer mental health and social outcomes, factors such as stigma, shame and embarrassment act as personal barriers to seeking and accessing mental health support.
  • LBGTIQA+ young people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse background experience additional stressors associated with race-based discrimination and significant conflict between their culture and their gender or sexuality.
  • There is a lack of understanding and resources for young LGBTIQIA+ CALD young people to accessing mental health services

What are the aims of the project?

  • Increase the inclusivity of our services and resources for CALD LGBTIQA+ young people and their friends and families. This will help CALD LGBTIQA+ young people build very important positive and supportive social and family connections that will act as a protective factor against suicide and mental ill-health.
  • Inform and shape community awareness strategies to help increase engagement of the most prevalent CALD communities within Brimbank (e.g. Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese) and address the stigma that might prevent CALD LGBTIQA+ young people from seeking help and thus, not receiving support for their mental health challenges.
  • Enhance LGBTIQA+ youth participation through establishing a LGBTIQA+ youth leadership group that can exist beyond the life of the project, and which can continue to work alongside the centre staff to improve LGBTIQA+ young people’s safe and accessible access to care.

Key findings

After an incredible period of co-design, co-facilitation, consultation and refining of data, we are proud to announce that our Rainbow Bridges report is now live! 

Over 22 young people who identified as LGBTIQA+ and from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds participated in our consultations. We thank them for the generous sharing of their experiences and recommendations, and we have provided a brief summary below. We highly recommend you reading the full report to appreciate the full nuance and colour of their experience in which these key findings are derived from.

  • Young people in our consultations spoke of how communication, attitudes and relationships with staff are paramount to a positive experience when help seeking
  • Visibility of support is important - expressed through physical representation (flags, posters, resources) within clinical and waiting spaces, and staff wearing pronoun badges and rainbow lanyards
  • Staff should introduce themselves with their pronouns, and offer young people the choice to share the same whenever they feel comfortable
  • Staff should be equipped with up to date, relevant and specific information. This means not defaulting to heteronormative resources. There should be an effort to be understand the culturally specific needs of the young person, and staff should endeavour to have a list of relevant resources, support and services to provide
  • Staff should not rely on the young person to educate them; while genuine curiosity shows humility and can be helpful, staff should consider the appropriateness and utility of the questions, and if unclear, explain these to the young person
  • Staff should avoid heteronormative and use as little clinical language as possible
  • Correct information (pronouns and names) should be communicated across service and through notes
  • Consider different methods of communication, such as visual or translated materials, and provide the option of receiving text messages opposed to phone calls
  • Be validating, friendly, open and curious
  • Share experience of working with CALD and/or LGBTQIA+ populations on your website/service directory 
  • Involve family with the young person's consent (family defined as family, carers, partners and friends)
  • Be explicit in confidentiality processes, all disclosure of information to family must be discussed prior (consider making a list)
  • All staff should be trained in queer sensitivity and cultural responsiveness, and this training should be supplemented by ongoing discussion and work shops
  • Avoid blanketing experiences together based on identity
  • Availability of visible, accessible, relevant and up to date resources in a variety of forms (brochures, flyers, posters, QR codes to webpages - these resources can range from psychoeducation to events happening in the community)
  • People of different cultural backgrounds have different perspectives and understanding of mental health, and may require psychoeducation - listen without judgement

What's next?

  • The RBLG and Community Awareness Officer has been sharing report findings to headspace centres around the North Western Metropolitan Region, as well as Orygen services. We continue to work on the recommendations in consultation with the youth advocacy group to ensure that we are striving towards more inclusive and safe service delivery.

How can you help?

While the consultation and report writing part of our project is complete, headspace Sunshine continues to seek out your experiences living as an LGBTIQIA+ young person from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. We appreciate that this is an incredibly nuanced and complex community to be a part of, and we want to better understand it! We hope that from your insight, we are better able to provide accessible and inclusive mental health services for our diverse community. 

We are currently working towards transforming key recommendations from our report into video modules for headspace staff. If you would like to share your own experiences of accessing mental health services and areas for improvement in these videos, or if you'd like to provide feedback or thoughts on the report, please contact Winn at headspaceSunhineCommunity@orygen.org.au and she would be ecstatic to get you involved!