Ryan Gingell spent hours trawling the internet looking for somebody to talk to about his transgender journey from a woman to a man, and how he felt. Estranged from his parents and depressed, he felt from past experience there was little chance of a sympathetic ear from mainstream health services.
Then 22-year-old Gingell found out about the specialist mental health service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people where he lived in Brighton. He says: "It's been fantastic. It gave me the space to talk to somebody who wasn't going to judge me. It didn't feel like I was using the health service because it wasn't in a surgery or hospital. It was a place where I felt safe."
Gingell is one of the young people aged 14 to 25 who have used the service since it was established by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. It is delivered by qualified mental health nurse Phil Stevens who is part of the Community and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team.
The team is the only one in the country to have a dedicated mental health worker exclusively to support LGBT young people. Stevens, who has a caseload of 15, works with young people who have emotional or mental health problems who are reluctant to use mainstream services because of the stigma of mental health, being gay or both.
He says: "It may be that their problems are because of their sexuality– but that is not necessarily always the case – or because they don't want to engage with mainstream services." Stevens will see a client wherever they want to meet: "I've met young people in all sorts of places, in the park or on the seafront, as well as at the young people's centre where I am based.
"It's wherever they feel confident. It makes the NHS much more accessible and they are more likely to engage with me as I am a dedicated LGBT worker – they know they will get a sympathetic ear."
The service won national recognition from the gay rights charity Stonewall, which promoted it as an example of best practice in its latest guide to NHS services for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Stonewall's senior health officer James Taylor says employing a dedicated LGBT worker sets the service apart from other CAMHS teams. He says: "That is unique although there are certainly other mental health services which are gay-friendly and understand the specific issues. I think what they have done in Sussex, and you don't often see this, is that they have thought about what was needed and have done something about it."
A specific service for gay young people is especially important when you consider the latest figures from Stonewall's School Report published this month. They showed that 23% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have tied to kill themselves and 56% have self-harmed. Other Stonewall figures show that in the past year 3% of gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide. "Something fundamental [in the NHS] has got to change," says Taylor.
The spotlight was thrown on the Sussex Partnership at the same time as the trust became the first in the NHS to make it into the top 10 of Stonewall's annual list of gay-friendly employers. This June the trust also signed up to become one of Stonewall's health champions, a Department of Health-funded initiative to support organisations to improve services for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Making into the top 10 was a significant achievement for the trust, according to its chief executive, Lisa Rodriguez: "It was extremely significant for us in terms of what it says about us in terms of the people who use our service, who would want to know that as a provider we are serious about gender and sexual equality issues, but also because of what it says more broadly [about us] in terms of the whole equality and human rights agenda."