A landmark Australian study has found transgender young people are at high risk for suicide and are approximately 10 times more likely than other young Australians to experience serious depression and anxiety.
Trans Pathways, by the Telethon Kids Institute, is the largest ever survey conducted into the mental health of Australian trans youth and the first to include the experiences of parents of trans young people.
Researchers surveyed 859 trans young people aged 14-25 years, along with 194 parents and guardians of trans young people, and researcher Dr Ashleigh Lin said almost half had attempted suicide and almost 80 per cent of them had self-harmed at some point.
The authors called on governments to promote trans-inclusive policies including around gender recognition and access to gendered facilities, and provide more funds and support for education programs and trans medical services, including the expansion of Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to better cater for trans-specific medical treatments.
“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,” Dr Lin said.
“These are vastly different figures to the general young population, with the 2015 Young Minds Matter survey indicating that one in 40 young people aged 12-17 had attempted suicide, and one in 12 had self-harmed.”
Three quarters of the participants surveyed – 74.6 per cent – had been diagnosed with depression, compared to 7.7 per cent of adolescents in the general population.
“Our results support previous research which has indicated that trans populations are at very high risk for mental health difficulties,” Dr Lin said.
“It’s important to emphasise that this is 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. 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.”
Lead author Penelope Strauss said 22 per cent of the participants had been homeless or had issues with accommodation.
“Young people told us stories of being homeless, starting with being kicked out of home by their family because of their gender, facing discrimination when trying to find a job, and finding it difficult to find housemates, which led to them couch-surfing or being homeless,” Ms Strauss said.
“These difficulties had a serious impact on their mental health. On the other hand, there were many accepting parents who wanted to do whatever they could to support their child but weren’t sure how to best do that, or where to find accurate and helpful information to enable them to do that.”
Teenager Drew (pictured, second from left), who came out as trans two years ago and participated in the study, said trans young people need the most support when they first come out.
“I think trans youth really need the support of the people around them, not judgement. There is of course doubt when someone first comes out, but I feel like one major thing that there’s not enough of is initial support,” he said.
“The support of my family was an incredible thing, I don’t think I’d be as comfortable in myself if I didn’t have it. They made me more confident.
“I think the outside perspective is where a lot of judgement comes from and its where a lot of misunderstandings happen, so if we can just help people understand and make that information available there is less likelihood that there will be hate or misunderstandings.”
The Trans Pathways survey was carried out by the Telethon Kids Institute in collaboration with The University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Youth Mental Health (Western Australian Department of Health), and the WA AIDS Council’s Freedom Centre. Read the full report here.
If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.