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Transgender youth less likely to harm themselves if they have support says UBC study

05/06/2015 09:25 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
More than half of transgender youth in Canada have harmed themselves due to issues like cyberbullying and harassment, but strong family and community connections could help them navigate these physical and mental health challenges, says a new University of British Columbia study.

The study, which surveyed 923 people between 14 and 25 years of age, focused on questions about home and school life, physical and mental health, access to health care and gender identity. It found that nearly two-thirds of transgender youth reported self-harm within the past year, and more than one in three youth had attempted suicide.

Roughly 70 per cent of surveyed youth reported sexual harassment, while 36 per cent of participants between the ages of 14 and 18 said they had been physically threatened or assaulted, according to the study.

Despite experiencing discrimination and abuse, youth are a lot less likely to harm themselves when they have families, schools and community members that support them, particularly if the youth are living in their preferred gender, said the study's principle investigator Elizabeth Saewyc.

"Even youth who have experienced that level of violence, when they have supportive families — family is really important for everybody, and when trans youth have supportive families that they could talk to about their problems, they did so much better," she told On The Coast's Stephen Quinn.

Supportive families and schools are critical

Saewyc says many of the surveyed youth said their parents cared about them, but most of them felt that their parents didn't understand them.

While providing families with better support and knowledge of how best to support their transgender children is important, Saewyc says it's also critical for schools to be more inclusive.

"A lot of [parents] are advocates for their kids in school, where they are facing challenges in terms of it being a safe and a welcoming environment, and they shouldn't have to be," she said.

"Schools should be safer for everyone because if you're not safe at school, you can't learn."

The survey also found that 15 per cent of youth with a family doctor said they felt comfortable talking about transgender-specific health issues, and a majority said they are missing much-needed physical and mental health care. 

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