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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Rafi

Rafi* was 17 and living in Melbourne when he told his family overseas that he was gay.

I was battling with my depression, and then I came out with my sexuality. I was born into a Muslim family, I left the religion, and I came out with my sexuality. So these two things turned everything upside down for me. My family disowned me, threatening to kill me.

Rafi’s family stopped supporting him financially and he became homeless. The threats intensified and he said he felt helpless.

In my home country the punishment for anyone who comes out as an LGBT person or in an LGBT relationship, they get killed in public on the street. And people have to see that so that they don’t do it again or someone doesn’t dare to do it. So when I say that I think I had it in my heart that I wanted to escape, I wanted to escape.

Rafi experienced trauma and mental health challenges from an early age.

I’m brown, dark Indian brown, not Middle Eastern brown. So I put up with a lot of extended family abuse, trauma and torture for that. According to them, I am a weak child compared to a Middle Eastern strong manly child.

When Rafi was admitted to an emergency department after attempting suicide in Melbourne, he said that the staff did not believe what he was saying about his family, the threats and punishment he would experience in his home country. He also reflected on the cultural difficulties he faced while he was receiving treatment, care and support.

Doctors used to talk in front of me as if I don’t know any English. I’m not good at English, but still, they used to talk in front of me as if I don’t know any English.

I did not eat hospital food because I didn’t grow up eating pork and things like that. I had a different food.

Rafi said that the doctors contacted his family overseas against his wishes and told them about his mental health challenges. He also said that staff planned to return him to his family, until the Department of Home Affairs and a psychiatrist intervened. Rafi described the importance of that intervention: ‘If that senior psychiatrist had not trusted me, I would be dead today.’

Rafi has built a family of choice in Australia and spends his time volunteering and supporting others to access mental health supports.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘Rafi’ (pseudonym), November 2020.

Note: *Name has been changed to protect privacy.