Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network

Lead Agency

Project overview
ACON established a Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network. Network members were trained in advocacy skills, clarified their values, refined their storytelling skills and learnt how to effectively represent sexuality and gender diverse communities.

Lived Experience Framework: Actions to achieve change

  • Focus: shift how we do things, our assumptions, cultures we foster, and stories we tell
  • Organisational change: support and be relevant to people with lived experience of mental health issues; develop and fund paid participation, influence and leadership opportunities
  • Education change: partner with people with lived experience in mental health issues and caring in education/training design, resources, delivery, assessment, evaluation and improvement 
  • Policy change: co-design and co-produce health and social policy; plan, design, evaluate and improve services, with paid peer work opportunities and collaborative, transparent reporting.


People of diverse sexualities and genders experience higher levels of preventable mental health issues than other population groups due to minority stress, the cumulative experience of violence, stigma, harassment and invisibility. 
ACON identified a need to train and support sexuality and gender diverse people with lived experience of mental health issues to build their capacity and confidence to consult on mental health services, policies and strategies to help shape inclusive mental health experiences.


ACON trained a group of sexuality and gender diverse people with lived experience of mental health issues to advocate and represent their communities, with a goal to shift mental health service cultures and their assumptions. They formed the Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network. 

The Network gives ACON and the broader mental health sector an increased capacity to engage with people of diverse genders and sexualities in processes of service co-design and consultation.

ACON recruited network members through a robust recruitment process, prioritising diversity. ACON sought data on postcode, age, sexuality, gender, intersex status, cultural and linguistic diversity, mental health issues, service use and caring experiences. The network has representation across location, age, gender, sexuality and culture. Two Aboriginal people were chosen in the recruitment process however could not attend training. ACON plans to train Aboriginal people in the next network iteration, establishing a Northern Rivers network for greater regional representation. 


To develop the capacity of prospective Network members, ACON ran two bespoke training workshops in partnership with consultants from inside out & associates. The workshops aimed to boost Network members’ understanding of advocacy and storytelling skills to:

  • Learn to strategically share stories on lived experiences of mental distress while maintaining self-care
  • Apply their representation skills to a range of consultative and collaborative processes; this included a live ACON services and programs consultation
  • Understand what makes a purposeful story about lived experience of mental health issues, learn recovery principles to frame stories and where to best tell their story
  • Represent effectively, using their lived experience, communication and advocacy skills
  • Share relevant lived experience of mental health issues and retain control over their story
  • Clarify their values for representing their lived experience in collaborations and consultations.

Evaluation process

  • A training evaluation was run by two self-rated surveys of members’ understanding and confidence in the essential elements of representation (before and after workshop training) 
  • After the training members’ combined evaluations rose by 80% (from 46% to 83%).

Outcomes for Rainbow Network members

  • Practiced value-mapping to capture passions or values they bring as representatives
  • Gained skills and confidence associated with lived experience representation 
  • Established new friendships and social support following the network establishment and training process
  • Provided the opportunity to give voice to their own lived experience and represent their communities needs as leaders for future services and support. This was a validating experience for members.

Further outcomes

Outcomes for ACON:

  • Positive, enthusiastic interest in the Rainbow Mental Health Network: many people are keen to participate in training and join the Network 
  • Insight on network members’ experiences and mental health support needs, which could enhance the responsiveness, quality and focus of ACON’s work around mental wellbeing of communities.

Benefits for other organisations or settings:

  • Better understanding, confidence and capability of community members with lived experience
  • Cultural and structural capacity-building and alignment to the Lived Experience Framework 
  • Replication for other populations and subject areas, following the results of this project and network. ACON identified opportunities to extend its experts by experience, to participate in further consultations to represent their communities in relation to health and wellbeing issues. 

Next steps

The Rainbow Mental Health Network is an engaged and cohesive group of individuals with lived experience of mental health issues. ACON is investing in training of network members in 2020. ACON will continue to facilitate opportunities for network members to represent the unique information and service needs of sexuality and gender diverse communities in various consultative processes.  

ACON has committed to training more Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network members in the Northern Rivers region. ACON is taking steps to ensure that sexuality and gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are included in future iterations of network training. 

More information:

To engage Rainbow Mental Health Lived experience network members in relation to a consultation or co-design process, contact Jack Freestone at jfreestone@acon.org.au or phone 02 9206 2066.  

1.    Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network Project Report.