Considering sexual health and wellbeing when providing mental health interventions and support

In the previous five years, a series of emerging syphilis outbreaks have been observed across Queensland. The rapid tripling of notifications over the course of a few years within certain populations is cause for concern, and has been significantly associated with alcohol and drug misuse, poor mental health, incarceration and/or chaotic lifestyle.

For both sexual health and mental health, the consequences of social exclusion, isolation, discrimination and stigma are critical drivers of poor health. This can also be compounded by fear of disclosure to and response from professionals , and therefore, limited interaction with health services.

Some of the ways to raise awareness and support better sexual health and wellbeing for the people accessing your services include:

  1. Take a brief sexual history as a routine aspect of any assessment, to identify risk factors or indicators for infection by sexually transmissible infection (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBV) and pregnancy.

  2. Discuss sexual risk and the potential for STI and BBV infection if there is a conversation with the client regarding alcohol and drugs, any other forms of risk taking and impulsivity, or coercion.

  3. Provide interventions such as health education to enhance knowledge of risk and protection, counselling to modify sexual behaviour and reinforce safe practices, and referral for clients to other clinical services for testing and management of potential infections and other sexual/reproductive conditions.

     Understandably, raising issues of sex and sexuality can be challenging for practitioners and clients. It requires a relationship of trust and safety where clients can feel confident to express themselves with honesty and without judgement. The practitioner needs to ensure confidentiality, to demonstrate compassion without judgement, to listen without assumptions and stereotypes, and to be conscious of their own cultural bias. 

    For further information, advice or options for referral, consult your local Sexual Health Clinic. Contact details can be obtained by ringing   13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or visiting  Sexual health | Queensland Health . Health promotion resources, training opportunities and professional education, clinical guidelines, and tools for testing, management and partner notification are also available at   Sexual health | Queensland Health

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