New online space for LGBTQ+ young people opens in Hackney

Pic: Rainbow Mind

A fortnightly LGBTQ+ online meeting for young people has been launched by Hackney-based charity Rainbow Mind.

The Rainbow Room wants to be a safe online place for LGBTQ+ people aged 17-24 to share experiences, connect with their peers and discuss mental health issues.

Talking to ELL, Rainbow Mind’s in-house therapist and project coordinator Carlo Ricciardi said: “One thing LGBTQ+ people might need more than others is contact with a social network. That often happens in a context – a venue or a club – or in a group they might be attending. During the pandemic, all of that disappeared.”

“Isolation and disconnection were the issues I encountered the most as a particularly difficult struggle for my clients,” said Ricciardi.

The Rainbow Room is a drop-in group meeting that can be accessed by simply clicking a link. “It’s co-produced and culture-focused. The group decides what they would like to work on and what they want to discuss.”

“It’s got a bit of everything: it’s got the connectiveness, a bit of LGBT culture, it’s got lightness but also ties into mental health issues and ways in which people can improve their wellbeing.”

Rainbow Mind is a collaborative project between mental health charity Mind branches in Salford, Hackney and Waltham Forest.

“We are an LGBTQ+ led and run service,” said Ricciardi. “We think that there are elements of the LGBTQ+ experience that can only be understood from a lived experience perspective. There is an understandable desire when you reach out for mental health support to know that you will be talking to someone who understands or who has been there themselves.”

Since 2019, the charity has been running a free 1-to-1 counselling service for LGBTQ people in Hackney and the City as well as a Radical Self-Care course and weekly workshops. All services have slightly different aims and eligibility requirements and referrals can be made following this link.

The radical self-care programme is a training course that focuses on how to deal with difficult emotions, internalised stigma and self-criticism.

Workshops are online group sessions centred on mental health issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community.

While these two are open to everyone regardless of where they live, counselling is reserved for Hackney and City residents.

As of 2021, Rainbow Mind has been taking on a new contract and started offering these new services.  “One of the challenges we are facing now is getting the word out there. We want people to know that we are here and what we do,” said Ricciardi.

The pandemic has caused all activity to move online. “We are conscious that this does inherently exclude people that might not have a private space, people who might not feel comfortable engaging in LGBT services from home if it’s not welcoming.”

“I worked with a lot of people who maybe lost their jobs during the pandemic or were furloughed and had to move back into a family system where they partially or wholly had to step back into the closet.”

But working online has its pros, too, said the charity. “For some people, it means they don’t have to go back and forth, and they can attend sessions at any time of the day.”

In the future, Rainbow Mind would like to do more collaborations with schools and local organisations as well as launch a peer support group and creative therapeutic spaces like art therapy or drawing therapy.

They are mindfulness practitioners, counsellors, psychotherapists. “At Rainbow Mind, we are all really passionate about the project. We all have personal reasons for why we want to support it, so it’s not just a job. We want to make it as good as it can be.”

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