Transgender young people are at a extraordinarily high risk of suicide and are about 10 times more likely than other young Australians to experience serious depression and anxiety, according to a nation-wide survey.
The Trans Pathway survey – the largest conducted into the mental health of young trans people in Australia – also shows they are more likely to face homelessness.
Dr Ashleigh Lin, a research fellow at the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia says the survey findings should act as an “urgent” call to action for the government, health professionals and general public to become better educated on transgender diversity.
“We feel very strongly about the findings of the survey, we don’t feel there’s been enough work on the mental health of trans young people and really if we look at the rate of suicide attempts, one in two is a horrifying statistic,” Dr Lin said.
More than 850 trans and gender diverse young people aged 14 to 25 and nearly 200 parents and guardians of trans young people took part in the anonymous online survey.
They were asked a wide range of questions relating to mental health and their experiences accessing medical and mental health services.
Three out four had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety by a health professional – 10 times higher than experienced by adolescents in the general Australian population – and 22 per cent reported an eating disorder.
Nearly 80 per cent reported self-harming behaviour, while nearly half (48 per cent) had attempted suicide – six times higher than the general adolescent population.
Those who had self-harmed or attempted suicide were more than four times more likely to have experienced issues with accommodation, including homelessness; and three times more likely to have been bullied.
The majority of trans survey participants said they were satisfied with the services provided to them by a GP, although some did report that it took time to find a “respectful” doctor.
Negative experiences with psychiatrists outweighed the positives, according to the survey findings.
Lead author of the report, PhD student Penelope Strauss, suggests this is because psychiatrists are often the “gatekeepers” to gender reassignment surgery.
“Often a young person needs to have a letter from a psychiatrist in order to access hormones,” Ms Strauss said.
Trans refers to people who identify as a gender that does not match the sex assigned to them at birth.
For parents of a trans child they are desperate for greater education, Ms Strauss said.
When asked what would make them more accepting of their child’s identity, they said: “It wasn’t that they were against having a trans child, it was that they were unaware of this identity and simply needed more information and more support from other parents who’d be able to understand what their child was going through and what their identity meant to their child.”