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Lean on me: Support workers fight for the trans community during the pandemic (Part I)

EMANUELLE ARNOLD: Underfunded, overworked and underresourced. Trans-friendly services rely on people who self-identify as a part of the trans and gender diverse population. Thus, they are also a part of one of the “most medically and socially marginalised groups in our community.” The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been profound on the community, fortifying the roadblocks to adequate support and medical care.

EMANUELLE ARNOLD: Can you imagine constructing a skyscraper without scaffolding?

Of course not. These support systems save lives.

Peer support practitioners are building the scaffolding for the trans community—but who is supporting them?

Underfunded, overworked and underresourced. Trans-friendly services rely on people who self-identify as a part of the trans and gender diverse population. Thus, they are also a part of one of the “most medically and socially marginalised groups in our community.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been profound on the community, fortifying the roadblocks to adequate support and medical care.

It is important to remember that these barriers can be fatal; three in every four trans young people have experienced anxiety or depression. Four out of five trans people have engaged in self-harm, and nearly one in two trans young people have attempted suicide.

This number is 20 times higher than adolescents in the general Australian population.

Whilst there has been some discussion on the impact of cancelling non-elective surgeries and the shortage of hormones for trans folk, there needs to be a more imminent focus on housing security and pathways to trans-friendly care.

After the first three months of the pandemic, 22.4% of trans people in Australia reported unemployment, three times the national rate.

Over one-quarter of the trans population reported that their living situation changed. Over one third said they had reduced working hours or had become unemployed.

For the trans community, the increased financial strain has seen an 80% rise in depression and thoughts of suicide.

The authors of the report “the impact of the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian trans community” suggest a need for a targeted health response, created with the input of trans people to address the “alarming” rates of depression and thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

Of course, this was just three months into the pandemic. At 18 months in, alarm bells should be ringing.

Long waitlists, housing insecurity and fears of discrimination are not new to the trans community. One in five trans youth will experience homelessness at some point in their lives.

But intense feelings of isolation and lack of access to the community makes it that much harder to bear.

Before the pandemic, Trans Pathways reported that 60% of trans young people had found it difficult to access health services. They report feeling isolated from medical and mental health care.

42% have said they reached out to a service provider, who did not understand their gender identity.

Imagine reaching out for help, and the people you are seeking help from only further your distress.

Trans youth have reported a lack of knowledge on trans issues, transphobia, and doctors telling them they were “going through a phase.”

This lack of knowledge in mainstream medical care is why peer support programs are so critical in the trans community.

Accessing support from someone who truly understands you is life-changing, and in this case, life-saving.

Daisy Dinnage is a transfeminine, non-binary person with a career as a mental health support worker—most recently as a peer practitioner responding to suicide in the queer community.

After experiencing burnout during the pandemic, they have since taken some time off the recover their own mental health.

A large part of their role became managing waitlists. “We were in contact with a lot of similar services, aiming to support people with mental support needs. Everyone has a waiting list that is six months long or longer.”

“From day one, we were flooded with referrals and people needing support.”

Dinnage said the lack of funding is a roadblock to support plans. Not only is there a lack of care to go around, but it means that clients who finally access support arrive with immense trauma and frustrations from the pathway to care.

“Most of the support I was doing was talk therapy, as there were too few resources to help people with their practical and material needs. That is not to understate the value of that kind of therapy.”

“But when someone is desperate for housing, and there are no housing opportunities that are not 6 to 12 months down the line, what does it leave support workers with any recourse to be able to do?”

“Except bear the brunt of all that kind of hardship—which in turn leads to burnout for workers,” they said.

“We carry a sense of responsibility for the shortcomings of a welfare system that is far beyond our control. We know what it’s like to be let down by support services—so we will always strive to do more.”

“But it will never be enough when there are people in need being left behind.”

Part II will be published next week.

Emanuelle Arnold
Emanuelle Arnold

Manue is a journalist and writer living on Dja Dja Wurrung country. Currently undertaking a Masters of International Relations at The University of Melbourne, they have a vested interest in making conversations about global politics accessible. Whilst completing their bachelor of Communications (Journalism) at RMIT, they worked in radio, digital and broadcast journalism.
Manue believes in people power and the importance of telling your own story.

Cover photo: by Denin Lawley (2021) Via Upsplash

2 Comments

Gosh those numbers are shocking! Mental health services were saturated pre-pandemic, and now access is almost impossible. And what kind of message does that send to people who ask for help and are told to wait an indefinite number of months? Add in the extra hurdle of finding practitioners and support workers who are aware of the needs of trans folks, and the odds of getting the right help are horrifically slim.
I’m looking forward to part two, hopefully there are some solutions for this!!

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