Bristol is one of the most trans-friendly cities in the UK, but many trans-people in the city still face isolation. A new helpline aims to be the ear for a community that is often unheard. A safe place to turn two nights a week for trans, a-gender, gender fluid, and non-binary people, Mindline Trans+ is a new initiative to a long-time shortcoming.
For 21 years, Bristol Mind’s Mindline has offered people in distress a safe place to turn, but the reality facing one group of callers compelled Mind to create them a specific helpline. “Not all transgender people have poor mental health but worrying statistics prompted Mind to so something,” explains Liz Sorapure, projects coordinator at Bristol Mindline.
Mainstream mental and physical health services can be an un-trans-friendly place to turn. This is can be due to a lack of time and resources in the health sector, but also because of the requirement on healthcare professionals to assess patients. Speaking to one of the volunteer listeners, a transwoman herself, revealed many of the reasons the trans helpline is needed: “Because we are an independent and anonymous, people at the beginning of their journeys feel able to discuss their identity without the fear of being assessed against criteria. We provide space and time to talk about their feelings,” the listener explained.
Both services are operated on a self-referral, anonymous basis, and do not record or take details. For this reason, all the volunteers remain anonymous.
“I have largely been taking the calls of those that have already transitioned and need mental health support. Some people face prejudice from colleagues. Some become cut off from their family, spouses or partners, and, in particular, children. It’s not uncommon to hear people say their parents won’t accept them because ‘we had a son and we don’t want a daughter’,” explains one listener.
“Although all volunteers are also transgender, our focus is on empathy not sympathy. It’s about seeing the situation as they do, not as you do. We don’t give advice, we just allow people to express themselves in a way they may never have before,” the listener continued.
The helpline was conceived in September 2016, after Mind held a LGBT and Mental Health Conference in Bristol raised concerns around the lack of trans specific mental health services. Consultation with the trans community highlighted the need to recruit trans+ volunteers who callers would feel comfortable talking to.
“Being non-judgmental is the key to the helpline. We appreciate that everyone is unique”, Liz added. “One advantage we had in the process was that while about 1% of population in UK identifies as trans, luckily Bristol has a large trans+ population so we were able to recruit three. The next challenge is to make sure people, especially in rural communities across the South West who may be isolated, know that we are here to support them too”.
Inquiring into the nature of the calls that had come in since February, depression, inevitably, was cited frequently. Nationally around 48% of trans+ people have attempted suicide, and the causes for depression in the community, the listeners told me, were manifold; some obvious, some less so.
One listener told me, the fear of fitting in can be complex: “the image we see of trans+ people in the media is very narrow, and often people feel they don’t fit that. Some fear preconceptions will turn them from an individual to a label. Education is lacking, and that limits people’s understanding of the varied complexity of gender identity. It can get so bad, people can’t look in the mirror,” one listener remarked.
Just over a month since the helpline opened, it’s building on the important work of the other Trans groups in Bristol in building a city that can truly support and respect everyone.
Mindline Trans+ is open Mondays and Fridays from 8pm to 12am on 0300 330 5468.
The Mindline service is available to anyone living in Bristol and is open 5 nights a week Wednesday to Sunday 8pm to midnight on 0808 808 0330
Image credit: Helen Lucy Wyatt (Helen Lucy Studio)