The South Tyneside LGBT+ service was established almost a year ago for young people aged between 11 and 25 and will celebrate the first-year milestone later this month.
It aims to improve mental and emotional wellbeing, promote healthy lifestyles, reduce the social isolation often felt by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and those with other related identity issues and tackle the discrimination they experience.
Around 40 young people use the service, which is supported by the council and South Tyneside’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and is provided by the charity Humankind.
One young person, who uses the name Chaos, referred himself to the service after hearing of a friend’s positive experiences. When he joined he was struggling with a number of mental health challenges including depression and anxiety.
“Coming out of the pandemic I was really worried about my ability to interact with other people, outside of my family, properly,” Chaos said.
"The group being over Zoom and in person has really helped me ease back into interacting with the people around me.
“I always feel welcomed by staff and by the other service users and it has helped me make friends with a lot of people who are like me in terms of identity but also in terms of interests and hobbies. I have attended many different groups and I honestly think this is the most beneficial one I have been a part of.”
Before the launch of this service, young people were often referred to traditional mental health services that were sometimes unable to offer the specialist support needed.
“This service was set up in response to requests from young people themselves,” said Councillor Anne Hetherington, Lead Member for Independence and Wellbeing.
"We know that mental health among the LGBT+ community can be alarmingly high and that these young people can have issues with homophobic bullying.
“Young people told us they needed a safe and supportive environment, so it is good to see them making use of the service and getting the right support from professionals who understand their issues.”
Dr Jim Gordon, a local GP and clinical lead at the CCG, said: “Eighteen months of Covid-19 has shown us all how important it is to look after our wellbeing and get support when we need it.
“Before we created this service, young people were often referred to traditional mental health services.
“We have excellent services locally but often these weren't the best place for young people needing support with their sexuality or sexual identity. Now our young people can call on support from people with real experience of their concerns, which makes a huge difference.”
According to the council, the service offers information, guidance, group activities and family support, in a personalised way to help each young person to achieve their full potential.
“Growing up LGBT+ can have a real toll on your mental health and how you view the world,” said Councillor Adam Ellison, Lead Member for Children, Young People and Families.
"It’s incredibly important that all young people feel valued, supported for who they are and able to live as their true selves.”