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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Alex Smith

Alex* moved to Melbourne in 2004 and has worked in Melbourne and in regional Victoria. Alex identifies as a trans masculine person.

Alex’s first interaction with the mental health system was around 2009, at 25 years of age. Alex described being admitted to the emergency department of a large public hospital after self‑harming.

I remember that I was told by staff in the emergency department that I was very silly and that I shouldn’t do this again because the hospital needed the beds for people who were actually sick. I was discharged from the emergency department and there was no follow‑up in relation to my mental health.

At about this time, Alex signed up for counselling provided by a specific LGBTIQ+ health service. Alex self‑referred based on online research. While Alex found that the counsellors were helpful, they were students who moved on quickly. Alex experienced this high turnover of counsellors at a number of community services over the years and said it was tiring to have to retell their story.

In 2010 Alex contacted an employee assistance program and told them about feelings of discomfort associated with gender identity.

The counsellor I spoke to told me that they didn’t have the expertise in matters of gender …. They did not offer a referral to another service. After this experience, I didn’t call my work’s employee assistance program again. I felt ashamed and rejected following this experience, and I did not disclose my gender‑related issues to a mental health professional for another [six] years.

After some time interstate, Alex returned to regional Victoria.

At this time, I really needed mental health support … I didn’t try to access any counselling or mental health services in my region because … I believed that it would be more likely that I would encounter ignorant and discriminatory attitudes about my gender identity, which made me feel really isolated and distressed.

Later, when trying to access specfic LGBTIQ+ services in Melbourne, Alex experienced long waiting lists.

I was only able to access counselling services over the telephone after approximately two months of being on the wait list. This was too little and too late … I believe things might have turned out very differently if I had received appropriate counselling during this time.

Alex found support when transitioning by accessing an online peer support group run by a Victorian trans and gender diverse advocacy organisation.

This group was absolutely vital to me … as I was able to access health information and practical and emotional support from a community of peers having the same experiences that I was having.

Alex would like to see a publicly accessible database of mental health practitioners who are trans and gender diverse–aware, as well as peer support for trans and gender diverse people interacting with emergency departments and acute mental health services. Alex would also like to see LGBTIQ+ awareness training that covers the unique needs and experiences of trans and gender diverse people, and a better conversation about managing privacy in LGBTIQ+ specialist mental health services.

Source: Witness Statement of ‘Alex Smith’ (pseudonym), 17 July 2019.

Note: *Name has been changed in accordance with an order made by the Commission.