In December 2020 Changes Bristol created a unique space for the LGBTQ+ community in Bristol. Their online LGBTQ+ peer support group runs every Tuesday from 6.30 – 8.30pm. 

Jack Willis, Project Worker at Changes Bristol, shares their experiences in accessing mental health services.

“My name is Jack (they/them). As a Project Worker with Changes Bristol a lot of my role involves helping to facilitate peer support groups. As part of LGBTQ+ History month I wanted to share a part of my personal history with Changes, and why I’m so passionate about our LGBTQ+ group. I went to my first Changes Bristol group six years ago, struggling with my mental health after a breakup that had left me without a job or a home, knowing that yet another course of antidepressants wasn’t going to change anything. What I found was the power of peer support in creating connection and community and in seeing the vulnerability of people sharing their personal stories.

Reflecting back on my time with Changes Bristol, I have noticed that the charity played a huge part in my own journey through mental health and queer identity. There have been so many meaningful moments which have played a big part in unpicking my own internalised transphobia, and showed me how to celebrate my identity. I learnt, alongside other people that the worries I had about not being accepted simply weren’t true. At one peer support group, a room full of people listened to me after I was refused a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic. As a group we celebrated me using a different name and pronouns and members actively educated themselves; and when my mixed race identity and queer identity clashed, people listened and accepted both parts of me. 

Despite only recently creating a specific place for LGBTQ+ members, every Changes Bristol group has a foundation of respect and inclusion of other people, and the diversity of their experiences. I have always felt like the sense of community and chosen family that is so important to the LGBTQ+ community is reflected across all our groups, and the same joy, love and celebration is there too. 

Mental health services haven’t always provided a nuanced understanding of the intersection of LGBTQ+ identity and mental health; sometimes this can lead to us having to leave parts of ourselves behind at the door to access support. The Changes Bristol online LGBTQ+ group is a community space to talk openly about what’s going on for you. The group is led by people who identify as LGBTQ+ with lived experience of mental health challenges. 

During the pandemic it’s clear that peer support for the LGBTQ+ community is more important than ever. Our LGBTQ+ group allows space for connection, support when things are feeling hard, and a celebration of the diversity of experiences within the community.” 

Changes Bristol holds an online peer support meeting every Tuesday from 6.30 – 8.30. This service is free of charge, there’s no waiting list and you don’t need a referral or a diagnosis to attend. Just fill in our online form here.

Contact Jack@changesbristol.org.uk for more info.