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"I'm one of the lucky ones" - how I got mental health support as a trans person

Finn

Guest blog by Peer Ambassador, Finn.

Being transgender, I am always hesitant to discuss my mental illness with others.

There’s this idea that being trans is a mental illness, and that any mental health issues we encounter would be resolved if we could “cure” our transness. In reality, many of us experience mental health concerns before we have even realised we are trans. A lot of these concerns are exacerbated if we are unwilling to accept we are trans.

I was raised in a family of 6, in semi-rural Queensland. My exposure to LGBT+ people was limited to mockery and the hatred of “delusional transgenders”.

My coming out to family was delayed because small actions, small statements here and there made me feel unsafe, to be honest. There were jokes about conversion therapy because I’m bisexual, comments of “what is THAT?” while pointing to a visibly trans person, the insistence that my boyfriend couldn’t possibly be a boy, because he looked too ‘feminine’ (he was 16, and unable to start hormones). These are only a few examples.

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"Lived experience cannot be gleaned from a book, it is a visceral knowledge."

People talking about mental health

"Nothing about us, without us" is a common request among people living with complex mental health issues. But all too often, systems and processes are designed without partnering with people with lived experience.

Ahead of a recent event hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Mental Health, we asked our SANE Ambassadors three key questions about the mental health system in Australia - and let politicians in Canberra know what they said. Here* are some of their answers ...

Question 1: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in accessing formal support (i.e. from a health professional or community service) for your experience of complex mental health issues?

"The biggest one for me has been the financial challenges of accessing formal support. There is very little low-cost/no-cost accessible support for adults of the age of 25 with complex mental health issues. A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I needed to leave full-time employment to focus on my mental health. This left me with a significant decrease in income, having gone from a full-time paycheck to unemployment benefits. My parents were not in a position to support me financially, and often my need for formal support was a lower priority to everyday living expenses such as rent, bills, food etc."

"Aged mental health is an issue I now face. Public facilities for those with a mental illness, and who are aging, are grim. They don't have rehabilitation as their goal and tend to see people through a negative lens. Older people with a chronic mental illness are not sexy, don't garner as much attention as young folk and are perceived as a nuisance."

"This is a very interesting question to me as I think the challenges can vary so dramatically depending on your life situation. I am in the very privileged position of having financial security, a supportive partner and network and even at my most unwell I am articulate and able to communicate my needs, opinions, etc. (except for a few episodes). And even I have found it challenging to find the right service or service provider.

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How to talk to a mate about their mental health

Two-Tradies

It can be hard for men to open up and talk about how they are feeling. And this can have serious impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. 

August is Tradies National Health Month, and it's important that men working in a trade not only have support to maintain their physical health - but that their mental health is a priority too.

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that men are three times more likely to die by suicide and twice as likely to have a substance abuse disorder.

So how can men reduce this gap and improve their mental health?

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Poem: What was the best thing someone said or did to support you?

Aki

This poem was written by young ambassador, Aki, about her experience of being supported while dealing with complex mental health issues.

There was a time I believed, ‘No man is an island’

(except for me).

Said island floats in the depths of my mind,

It tethers me to the bed; I’m shackled and confined.

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Living with borderline personality disorder: Aaron's story

Aaron-SANE-Ambassador

Following story as told to Fairfax media.

Living with complex mental illness is hard enough, but the accompanying stigma and isolation make symptoms worse and act like a handbrake on recovery.

That was the case for Aaron Fornarino, who was first admitted to a mental health facility at age 14 and eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). He spent his teenage years and young adulthood in and out of psychiatric wards and foster homes, where he struggled with self-harm, anxiety, depression and impulsiveness.

“It was just a really chaotic time,” says Fornarino, now a 37-year-old public servant in Adelaide.

“Borderline personality disorder wasn’t taken very seriously back then. I was sort of treated like an attention-seeker or a pest.”

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Avoiding Carer Burnout

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Burnout and compassion fatigue are terms carers regularly hear when caring for someone with a mental illness.

There is no doubt that caring for someone can be a demanding, stressful and exhausting role. It's also common to be told to look after yourself and prevent burnout. But, at times it can be difficult to know when we are feeling normal pressures or when it’s something more.

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Supporting Your Loved One Through A Panic Attack

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Twice a month, SANE Australia runs Topic Tuesday events on our forums. These are a chance for people around the country to come together in real time to discuss issues involving complex mental illness. Previous topics have covered everything from the side effects of medication to creating a safety plan, from supporting someone through panic attacks to sex and intimacy with a complex mental illness.

Topic Tuesday discussions are anonymous, safe, moderated by mental health professionals and free for users to take part.

The forum holds a space for a Lived Experience community and another for the Carers community and a monthly event is held in each side. In January we hosted “Supporting your loved one through a panic attack” in the Carers forum but with participation from people in both groups.

It was extremely informative to hear about panic attacks from both those having them and those observing them. Here’s a selection of perfectives from the event.

Many said the first time came as a shock:

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Parenting with Mental Health Challenges

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Topic Tuesday is a regular event on the SANE Forums where we host live discussions of specific mental health issues. Recently Belle from Parentline joined us to give advice for parents with mental health challenges. Here's some of her tips.

The life of a parent can be a busy and demanding one! You could be juggling so many potential stressors all at once, including work, family commitments, finances, and keeping up with your child’s school and social routines.

For those parents managing mental health challenges, you are managing not only your responsibilities as a parent, but your own mental health, and the complex and confronting emotions that can come with this delicate balance. No easy feat.

This being said, there are things you can do for yourself that can make parenting with a mental illness easier.

Be kind to yourself and mindful of self-expectations

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Five ways to reduce stigma in the workplace

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Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart from others. It can occur due to misunderstanding as well as prejudice. For people living with mental illness, stigma can lead to a lack of support or compassion, leaving them feeling misunderstood and marginalised.   Stigma is sadly prevalent in the workplace. Many workers are r...
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Five tips to improve your motivation

whatever-it-takes

For people living with mental illness, feeling a lack of motivation can be a common experience.

This can present in many ways. It may be lack of motivation to go to work, to socialise with your friends and family, difficulty getting out of bed, or problems tending to basic personal needs such as having a shower or brushing your teeth.

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