Culture

Transgender Youth Face Extraordinarily High Rates Of Suicide And Depression

One in two of those surveyed had attempted suicide.

This article discusses mental illness and suicide.

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Young transgender people in Australia experience extraordinarily high rates of mental illness and suicide risk relative to the general population, a groundbreaking new survey has found.

The Trans Pathways survey, run by the Telethon Kids Institute, is the largest survey ever conducted on the mental health of trans youth (aged 14-25) in Australia. It found that almost one in two young trans people have attempted suicide; a rate six times higher than for young Australians more generally. Four out of five young trans people have self-harmed, compared to one in ten adolescents in the general population.

The survey also found that young trans people are ten times more likely to experience serious depression and anxiety relative to other young Australians. In grim news for those experiencing mental illness, though, 42.1 percent of respondents reported that they had reached out to a medical or mental health service provider who did not understand, respect or have previous experience with gender diverse people. Sixty percent of respondents said they had felt isolated from medical and mental health services.

“The finding that one in every two gender-diverse young people we heard from has attempted to end their life is a sobering statistic that demonstrates the urgent need for services that are better equipped to support gender diverse young people,” senior researcher Dr Ashleigh Lin said.

She added that it’s important to note that these high rates of mental illness are “not because an individual identifies as trans”.

“Rather, these difficulties are largely caused by external factors – in other words, how the world perceives and treats trans people,” she said.

“This was borne out by the experiences of the young people we heard from, many of whom reported they had been subjected to transphobia and bullying.”

Indeed, the survey found 89 percent of young trans people had experienced peer rejection, 74 percent had experienced bullying, and 68.9 percent had experienced discrimination more generally. Risks to mental health appeared in all spheres of trans youth’s lives, with 78.9 percent experiencing issues at school, uni or TAFE, and 65.8 percent experiencing a lack of family support. One in five trans youth had experienced issues with accommodation or homelessness.

The survey authors concluded that urgent action is required to reduce risk factors for trans youth, and made a series of recommendations for Government, medical services, educational institutions, and parents.

Lead author Penelope Strauss flagged expanding access to inclusive medical care as a key priority amongst those recommendations.

“Trans young people told us there is a desperate need for gender services to be expanded, and for current service providers to receive training in gender diversity and the specific health needs of trans people,” she said.

Dr. Lin said the survey and its recommendations were critically important because “it tells us that young trans people in our community are experiencing really high levels of distress and as a community we can do something about it.”

“This report provides evidence that increased funding for specialised trans health services, trans-inclusive public policies, and better education on gender diversity are all urgently needed to support trans people now and in the future.”

The report comes at a time when concerns for trans youth are especially high amidst the debate over the same-sex marriage postal vote. The mothers of transgender children have already expressed their concern that the “No” campaign in that debate is targeting crucial support services for trans youth, like the Safe Schools program.

The full report and recommendations are available to read here.

If you’d like to talk about any issues with your mental health and options getting long-term help, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.