Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people often face greater rates of marginalisation and discrimination in our society and can have a range of different needs that present challenges for mental health services.
Openness, respect and acceptance of people’s gender and sexual identity is vital to ensure the gender sensitivity of services for LGBTI people. Any type of homophobic or transphobic discrimination can have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
Ways to improve services
Mental health service managers and staff can ensure that their services recognise and respond to the needs of people with diverse gender identities and sexual preferences by:
- providing staff training and orientation that promotes awareness of the diverse needs and challenges faced by LGBTI people
- emphasising the importance of open, respectful and non-judgemental attitudes, particularly when discussing issues related to people’s gender identity and sexuality
- promoting reflective practice and organisational guidelines that encourage staff to question their own assumptions and prejudices about gender identity and sexuality
- responding firmly to any incidents of discrimination or insensitive behaviour by staff
- providing LGBTI people with referrals to appropriate services and support wherever necessary
- addressing transgender people by their preferred gender, and paying particular attention to people’s feelings and wishes when offering same-sex accommodation
- ensuring the physical environment reflects an openness to diversity (for example, through posters and information leaflets) and is arranged to facilitate easy navigation for LGBTI people (for example, providing unisex toilets).
Using inclusive language
While intake and assessment forms may not have the capacity to fully reflect gender and sexual diversity, services are encouraged to find ways to incorporate inclusive language in all documentation. For example, ‘preferred contact for emergencies’ is more inclusive than ‘next of kin’.
Internal guidelines should instruct staff to explain to individuals why they may be asked questions related to their gender or sexual identity, and how this information may be used.
Such enquiries should always be informed by gender-sensitive practice principles and all information must be treated respectfully.