Recently, QAMH members at our Members Forum on 19 May heard from the Metro North Public Health Unit and the Sexual Health & HIV Service on the complex relationship between mental illness and sexual health.

The incidence of sexually transmitted infections – including syphilis which was once considered eliminated in Australia – is sharply rising among heterosexual women of reproductive age in South East Queensland, with 488 cases recorded in 2023 to date.

Mental illness can be a risk factor for the acquisition and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, along with alcohol and other drug use, domestic violence, incarceration and other adverse social determinants. However people experiencing mental illness may face social isolation and exclusion, and have limited access or willingness to engage with hospitals, support services and sexual health resources. As such it is critically important that we find ways to engage with vulnerable populations to halt the spread of infections in the community.

Metro North Public Health Unit and the Sexual Health & HIV Service are working to raise awareness in this area. They shared how we, as community mental health providers working in this space, can assist the people that we are working with to receive the help that they need. The session covered:

  • Understanding the link between sexual health and adverse social determinants (homelessness, drug and alcohol use, mental illness, incarceration)
  • Assisting with early identification and support for testing
  • Engaging in basic education around risk factors with consumers
  • Supporting women (including those experiencing mental distress) who are disengaged from antenatal care to access support.

It was a fascinating and highly informative session and we thank all involved. If you would like to find out more, please see below for some recommended links that you may find useful in your work.

Directory of sexual health services across the state:
List of Queensland sexual health and HIV services | Queensland Health

Resources and important referral services in relation to partner notification and contact tracing:
Contact tracing for sexually transmissible infections | Queensland Health

Good websites and resources providing information for the general community and specific populations. These resources also link to state and national campaigns, including ones focussed on the impact of syphilis. There are also some very good videos that explain the nature and impact of STIs:
Sexual health promotion resources | Queensland Health

Information on the range of training and on-line in-service available to workers, some quite specific and clinical but others quite generic:
Sexual health training for health providers | Queensland Health

A thorough on-line training program developed by the Alcohol & Drug Training team at Insight, designed for AOD (& Mental Health) workers, and developed in response to the ongoing syphilis outbreak.
Insight – Toolkits – Sex and drugs

If your organisation would like to arrange further information sessions for staff, please feel free to contact Elizabeth Hanna who is responsible for community partnerships and liaison at Metro North Sexual Health & HIV Service (Biala).