The keen perspective and deep understanding that can only come from lived experience are often among the most vital elements in keeping vulnerable or at-risk individuals safe from suicide.
The highest rates of both suicidality and suicide attempts in Australia are experienced by people who are sexuality and gender diverse, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or queer (particularly trans people). As such, there are significant needs for targeted and empathy-rich support.
As ACON Projects Coordinator Leo Tsao notes, there has historically been very little available in terms of tailored programs supporting the needs of Australians who are sexuality and gender diverse including those from trans communities.
And according to Tsao, that's why
Trans Vitality, part of
Towards Zero Suicides' Expanding Peer Support and Peer Led programs initiative, is making such a huge difference.
Trans Vitality is a program for trans and gender diverse people created by ACON's Trans Health Equity team, enabled by NSW Health and supported by clinicians, trans community members and the Black Dog Institute.
With the prevention of suicidality and suicide in Australians who are sexuality and gender diverse as its core focus, the program offers a suite of eLearning elements, a virtual Toolkit and online workshops that empower trans and gender diverse individuals to learn about resilience, community, and the rich and storied history of NSW trans communities.
Trans Vitality also includes a comprehensive directory of support and referral services, available through TransHub for use by clinicians and those in the community who may need information or help in any number of situations and settings.
The online workshop streams are the heart of the program and provide a diverse range of participants the opportunity to be heard by trained peers who have lived through similar experiences and challenges. The peers are then able to lend their invaluable first-hand advice and support.
"It's been informed by lived experience and expertise from start to finish," Leo says. "There were intensive co-design sessions so that we could find out what the community actually wanted and needed - and through those we formed all the content."
The sessions and resources have been especially valuable during the various COVID lockdowns and restriction periods when participants have felt especially isolated and vulnerable.
"The online workshops made it so much more accessible for people… we even had some participants who had have never had contact with other trans people in their lives and that was really significant," Leo says.
"We had groups from a huge age-range, different cultural backgrounds, regional, metropolitan, and diverse lived experiences."
Among the peers able to bring invaluable lived experience to the program is Taz Clay, a Kalkadoon and Bwgcolman Brotherboy from North Queensland with a background in suicide prevention.
"Growing up it's quite hard as a young black kid - racism causes its own sort of mental health issues, then [when] I got older and I came out as trans and life progressed, it did get a lot harder, but that's because of the way society is," he says.
"We've been able to have a Sistergirl and Brotherboy specific streams as part of the Trans Vitality workshops so that's been really nice to be prioritised."
"We understand the intersectionality between culture and the trans experience and how different it can be for everyone - so, the fact that we have different presenters of this program and we've been able to get such a wide cohort is really important."
Among the most rewarding parts of Taz's involvement with the program, he says, has been being able to provide the trans community with much needed language and resources to support themselves. But the most humbling part for Taz was sitting down with workshop participants, seeing them feel comfortable and connected enough to open up and truly engage.
This sentiment is echoed by Leo.
"We in the trans community experience so much harm within the systems that are meant to be supporting us, I'm proud of be part of one of the few resources around that are making a positive difference."
is a NSW Health
Towards Zero Suicides