“They might not have access to help readily, whether it’s because they’re isolated in rural and regional Australia or because they’re in a household or family environment that makes it difficult to seek help openly."
By
Michaela Morgan

9 Nov 2017 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2017 - 1:57 PM

A new mentoring service for people of diverse sexuality and gender identities has launched online, creating a community that’s helping to promote positive mental health strategies. 

StartOut was founded by Adam Dent and Brendan White who decided they wanted to do something to help out some friends who were struggling with their mental health. 

“We came up with a hypothesis that an online mentoring service would be a huge help to isolated young people and we then went and tested that with organisations like Beyond Blue and Mind Australia and a whole bunch of young people and it started coalescing into a serious idea,” Dent tells SBS. 

He adds that the independent charity is aimed at people who might be coming to terms with their sexual or gender identity in silence. 

“They might not have access to help readily, whether it’s because they’re isolated in rural and regional Australia or because they’re in a household or family environment that makes it difficult to seek help openly,” he says. 

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People who want to access StartOut can jump on the site and have a look through a bank of role models who have each written a bit about their personal journey. 

“We then match them up with a role model and they connect through our highly secure and specially designed mentoring platform," says Dent. "Then we put those two people together so they can start working through the challenges. 

“We’ve recruited and trained about a hundred mentors so far from all sorts of different backgrounds, all different life experiences, and they’re all at various points in their own journeys.”

Dent—who identifies as gay— says he knows all too well what it’s like to feel different in an isolated environment.  

“I grew up in Gippsland in Victoria in a pretty low socio-economic country town, so I know some of the struggles quite personally.

“For me, to know that I wasn’t alone and that it wasn’t as bad as maybe I thought it was and there was a way to get through it, it would have been incredible.

“Just to think back now and imagine those last few years at school having not being so anxious and worried about my own safety. 

“I can’t imagine how much more I could have potentially thrived and done so much more at that point in my life.”

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StartOut has been holding training sessions for mentors all over Australia, equipping them with the skills they need to offer proper support. 

“One of the first things we do is talk about the sorts of issues and challenges, like…we know young DSG (diverse sexuality and gender) people are more likely to commit suicide than their peers. 

“We talk about those kinds of challenges, mental health challenges and day-to-day challenges that they might be facing that would lead them to reach out to us,” Dent says. 

Dent adds that “mentoring is not a one-way street" and that the process will "allow our mentors to reflect on themselves and think about their own lives, it’s definitely a mutually beneficial process.”

While the service launched just last month, StartOut has already received requests from about a dozen people who will be matched up with mentors shortly. 

You can check out the StartOut page here.

If you're needing someone to talk to right now, give Lifeline a call on 13 11 14, or start a conversation via their online chat service (available from 7pm-midnight). 

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