The Telethon Kids Institute 2016 Trans Pathways was a national online survey about the mental health of Australian trans young people.
It found they were at very high risk for mental health problems, self-harm and suicide, but that this can be improved by changing some of the risk factors and developing interventions. It also found services were lacking and education was desperately needed.
Results included that:
- Four out of five trans young people have ever self-harmed (79.7%) - this is compared to 10.9% of adolescents (12-17 years) in the Australian general population
- Almost 1 in 2 trans young people have ever attempted suicide (48.1%) - this is 20 times higher than adolescents (12-17years) in the Australian general population
- Three in four trans young people have ever been diagnosed with depression (74.6%) - this is 10 times higher than adolescents (12-17 years) in the Australian general population
- 72.2% of trans young people have ever been diagnosed with anxiety - this is 10 times higher than adolescents (12-17 years) in the Australian general population
Jo says the Telethon Kids Trans Pathways report gives an insight into some of the most dire consequences of what happens when trans and gender diverse youth are not supported by family, school and community and can’t get access to appropriate health care
“Alternatively, we know that when young trans people are supported by family they have the best mental health and academic outcomes,” Jo says.
“Australian medical professionals working with transgender children have all signed on to the new Australian guidelines encouraging parents to affirm their children and asking for education in schools and kindergartens to support transgender children.
“The best thing parents can do is listen to the advice of these professionals and even more importantly listen to your child.
“For all children it’s important to let them wear what makes them feel comfortable and play with the toys they enjoy, without judgement. But that’s not gender identity. That’s just gender expression.
“If they are telling you that the gender identity they were assigned at birth isn’t right, then listen to them. If you need to, think about seeing someone or join a parent support group like Parents of Gender Diverse Children”.
A board member of Parents of Gender Diverse Children, Jo Hirst says, as Australia’s largest peer support group supporting parents and primary care givers of trans and gender diverse children, the organisation can offer help to children and families.
“They provide support, education, advocacy and the opportunity to speak and meet with other parents and families.
“They also help connect you to the closest and best available therapists and health workers in your area and help to make sure your child’s pathway at school is smooth.”
Jo says gendered marketing has helped construct and reinforce society’s rules around gender roles and that parents can play a role in breaking these down.
“Most parents my age have noticed the steady increase in gendered marketing since the 1970s.
“Retail decides what presents your newborn baby should receive in hospital and for every birthday after that. Toy and clothing aisles in shops are allocated according to gender and now even bookshops have ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ shelves.
“As parents we can try and work around this by giving our children lots of choices. We can present them with a range of toys, games and clothing and let them choose.
“But we can’t stop the outside world from having a major impact.
“Children work out the ‘rules’ of our society and through our stores and advertising they quickly learn that there are rules for what boys and girls should wear and play with.
“Kids like rules and they tend to impose them on other children.
“You will often find kids policing the ‘rule’ of gender in the classroom.
“Pointing out to a boy playing with a doll that he is playing with a ‘girl’s’ toy. Implying that he has somehow broken these gender rules that they have seen played out on their televisions, when they are shopping and sometimes reinforced by adults.”
The role of language
Jo says parents can also play a role in giving young children the language to express themselves about their gender and understand that others may be different to them.
“Many young trans and gender diverse children suffer unnecessary anxiety simply because they don’t have the language to explain to their parents about what is making them feel so sad or angry,” Jo says.
“With very young children you don’t necessarily have to use big words like ‘transgender’ or ‘non binary’. You can show them that there are other children in the world who feel this way and that’s a normal part of human diversity.
“What’s important for young children is using the correct pronouns and names of others. It’s about basic respect.
“None of us like to be mislabelled or misrepresented but for trans and gender diverse children names and pronouns become especially sensitive.
“If someone feels intensely anxious and uncomfortable being labelled ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ and they are going to have a happier life with better mental health and academic outcomes living as their authentic self, then I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we show respect and refer to them by their name or the pronoun ‘they’.
“It’s a small effort on our part with a huge positive outcome for that individual whether they are a child or an adult.”