Q&A with Joe Ball on preventing LGBTIQA+ suicide

Posted 30th June 2022 in Sector news

Joe Ball, CEO of Switchboard Victoria, is a proudly trans community leader, championing LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention.

Joe Ball presented a powerful and passionate keynote at the recent International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) 10th Asia Pacific Conference. The presentation, ‘When hate kills: preventing LGBTIQ suicide’, highlighted the need to improve LGBTIQA+ prevention practice, urging for:

  • A national LGBTIQA+ suicide framework
  • Coroners to collect data on LGBTIQA+ people
  • The census to ask questions around LGBTIQ+ identity
  • The inclusion of chosen family in coronial data collection
  • A national apology for LGBTIQA+ veterans dishonourably discharged.

Joe shares further insights into LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention, the importance of data collection, what the sector can do differently and his self-care practices.


What is the most enjoyable part of your role at Switchboard?


I’d have to say it’s serving and working with my community. There's a fantastic bunch of staff at Switchboard and they all identify as LGBTIQA+. It is a pure joy to work in and for your community. It’s just LGBTIQA+ people all day, every day and that's great!


Why does Australia need to focus on LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention?


Sadly, because of the prevalence. We have high rates of poor mental health and suicide - both suicide attempts and people who live with thoughts of suicide within our community. We need to focus on it because as a country, we are currently not. There are mentions in some national strategies that we are a priority population, but there is no investment and strategies that actually make us a priority population. Frankly, the issue is not getting better; if anything, it’s getting worse. This means that the current generalist approach to our community is not working. We need to do something different that includes focusing on LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention and making it a priority.


How does a lack of data collection limit LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention in Australia?


There is a data deficit in our community and I think the key place to start is the census. We are promised the government will include us in the 2024 census, but this means that for over 100 years of census collection, LGBTIQA+ data hasn’t been recorded. We have no longitudinal data on our communities and every census without data collected is another missed opportunity.

There is an immediate need to collect data on how many of us are in Australia, how we fall within the acronym, where we live, how we live, our economic status, education status, do we have caring needs and more. We need to be included in the census, not just to count us but to paint a picture of who we are and what kind of responses we need.

From conservative estimates, the community could range from 10-25% of the population. That's a huge range! The census would give us that grounding baseline so that in other surveys, you can use the census baseline to infer a representative sample. It's something we need and something I'm extremely passionate about.

When I’m advocating for data collection, I also want to advocate for data sovereignty. We have a right to have control over how data is used and collected so that it is within our own hands. I’d like to see something established where LGBTIQA+ people have oversight over how data is collected and how it's released.


What can the Australian suicide prevention sector do differently to help LGBTIQA+ people?


There are a lot of things, but I think it's important to recognise the social determinants of suicide in our community and the social drivers. The sector needs to combat some of those social drivers. We don't have high rates of suicide in our community because of who we are, but because of how we are treated. That is really, really important to understand. If you accept that as a fact, then you need to act from that fact. For example, how you’re treated when you enter bed-based care, when you go to your GP, when you disclose at the emergency department that you are suicidal or you’ve made a suicide attempt; that is one case of where the service sector needs to improve.

The other part is how we're treated broadly in society and we need to have a more inclusive society for LGBTIQA+ people. We need to recognise that when there are attacks on our communities - whether it's the religious discrimination bill or during the election cycle - these attacks drive suicide in our communities. The suicide prevention sector needs to recognise these drivers and play a part in combating them. In short, you have to improve your service delivery so it's inclusive, but you also have to start changing the world we all live in.


How do you practice self-care?


Self-care is very much a personal practice and the best way to self-care is to understand yourself and what self-care means to you. A lot of the time, self-care is sold to us like, ‘these are the top things you should do to look after yourself’, but I think it’s really an individual experience.

What I do like to do is powerlifting. For me, that's my self-care; to make sure that I go into my trans-inclusive, affirming gym a couple of times a week. To me, that makes me feel good, connected to my body and it's something that I’m just doing for myself; it isn't about all the hard stuff that I do at work. It is hard in this line of work, especially in suicide prevention to say, ‘I’m not going to do that thing because I have a massage booked’. But we need to recognise that this is a long-haul project and I want to be here in the long term. I don't want to just be here for a year, burn out and resent the work I do. I want to always feel the way I do now, which is proud of it, engaged and revved up!

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