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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

Switchboard's Rainbow Door

Switchboard's Rainbow Door

Switchboard Victoria is a not‑for‑profit public benevolent institution (charity) and community‑controlled service established in 1991. Switchboard supports the health and welfare of LGBTIQA+ people, their families, allies and communities. Examples of services provided by Switchboard include:

  • ‘QLIFE Teleweb Services‘, providing telephone/webchat peer support services for the LGBTIQA+ community
  • ‘Out and About‘, a statewide community visitors‘ scheme for older LGBTIQA+ people that seeks to reduce social isolation and build services’ capacity to meet thee needs of older LGBTIQA+ people
  • a suicide prevention program, which supports integrated research, training, community and partnership activities to address the complexities of suicide in LGBTIQA+ communities
  • the QTIPoC Project, supporting capacity building within Switchboard and beyond to address the needs of QTIPoC (queer, transgender and intersex people of colour) communities.

In 2020, as part of the state‘s response to COVID‑19, the Victorian Government provided 12‑month funding for Switchboard‘s Rainbow Door program. Rainbow Door is a free helpline providing mental health information, support and referrals to LGBTIQA+ Victorians, their friends and families.

Sarah Marlowe, Chair of Switchboard Victoria’s Board, said Rainbow Door was established to support people from LGBTIQA+ communities to access safe and inclusive care. Rainbow Door links LGBTIQA+ people and their supporters to culturally safe services for support with a range of areas including mental health, family violence, alcohol and other drugs, housing, sexual assault, elder abuse and general health. The service can be accessed via email, phone and text message.

Sarah explained that in the absence of safe and inclusive services, many in LGBTIQA+ communities, have formed networks of support for each other. However, Sarah noted that LGBTIQA+ communities also need access to mental health services.

I love my community, as I love and am deeply committed to the value of peer support. But on their own, these things are simply not enough. LGBTIQA+ people need, and deserve, the additional support of specialist mental health and other services, and the safe intake and advocacy support required to access them.

Rainbow Door builds on the existing peer‑driven support services to the community including QLIFE, a counselling helpline. Sarah said such services are critical to members of the community seeking support.

Through my training and the work, I came to understand that ‘peer’ means safe. Callers often asked for reassurance that I was a member of the community. They felt safe to talk knowing I too had faced experiences like internalised stigma, and the challenges of coming out, of finding community and relationships, and of building a life as part of a minority community.

All Rainbow Door staff are experienced specialist workers with case management, suicide intervention and risk assessment skills. They can provide family violence risk assessment and safety planning and assist with access to LGBTIQA+ friendly services and connections to advocacy or advice.

Sarah said advocacy and support to navigate the service system is crucial, especially for people in urgent need of care, and that Rainbow Door helps to fill a critical service gap. Sarah also recognises that alongside LGBTIQA+ community‑controlled organisations like Switchboard, mainstream mental health services play an important role in delivering care for LGBTIQA+ people.

Mainstream services should always be an option, offering the empowerment of choice. However, in order for that choice to be realised, we need the state wide intake and referral service, Rainbow Door, which helps LGBTIQA+ navigate the mental health system with a peer and opens the way for LGBTIQA+ people to be referred into the services they need.

Source: Switchboard, Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020; Rainbow Door, About Us, [accessed 17 November 2020]; Launch of the Rainbow Door, speech by Sarah Marlowe, 28 September 2020.