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Mental health of queer community at risk as NPO faces closure

mental health of LGBTQIA+ community under threat as NPO faces closure.
Written by Marcia Zali

A  local Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) which offers free mental health services to the queer community is struggling to keep its doors open due to a lack of funds.

Queerwell, based in Alberton, Johannesburg, provides a safe space for queer individuals who cannot afford private mental health services. The organisation has assisted more than 1 300 members of the LGBTQIA+ community in accessing private professional psychologists and therapists since 2019. 

It has also relied on volunteers and donors to remain operational. 

Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe, one of the founders of Queerwell, is desperate for help. 

“We are trying to raise the funding so that we can be able to pay the therapists and counselors, as well as the administrators. We are also aiming to provide employment for some members of the queer community,” she said.  

The mental health professionals who offer services at the NPO are given sensitization training so that they can understand some of the issues affecting queer individuals.  

This also helps provide a safe space where services are tailored to suit the clients’ needs and preferences in terms of gender, race and language of the professional assigned to them.   

With the recent spate of murders driven by hate crimes leveled against LGBTQUIA+ people, the need for these mental health services has become more urgent with fear, anxiety and depression taking a toll on the queer community. 

“You can imagine if you’re living in Thembisa and a queer person in your area gets killed. As a gay person who is living in that same place, you are obviously anxious and worried about your own safety. It is very depressing to know that you could be killed because of your sexuality,” said Rakumakoe. 

Rakumakoe further added that rejection from families based on sexuality is a leading contributor to depression seen in most of the patients at Queerwell. 

She added that Queerwell also equips patients with mental health techniques which can be used once they return to their usual environments.  

The impact of COVID-19 on the earning abilities of many South Africans has also contributed to the rising number of people who are in need of mental health services. 

Making the switch  

But the restrictions brought by measures to curb the spread of the virus have allowed the NPO to reach more people than previously possible.

With many organisations having to use virtual platforms to reach out to clients, Queerwell has adapted to new ways of counselling with patients. Online counselling sessions have replaced face-to-face safe spaces. 

“We are accessible to all now. We have even had people from outside the country reaching out to us. People are now able to reach us and speak to a therapist and get assistance. The downside is that people who are in situations where being online is a privilege or where lockdown restrictions have a played a role means many haven’t been able to reach us,” said Rakumakoe. 

Queerwell hopes they’ll be able to open a mental health clinic that will offer services to queer individuals. 

They have also called on individuals and organisations to support their efforts of offering their much-needed services to individuals who sometimes fear seeking help because of the stigma and victimisation that they often get subjected to. 

Those willing to donate can visit their website at: https://queerwell.org– Health-e News  

About the author

Marcia Zali