Transgender youth in Canada are facing major mental and physical health challenges, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia. The study called, “Being Safe, Being Me,” is based on the results of a nation-wide survey of more than 900 transgender youth from ages 14 to 25.
The study’s mental health findings were particularly alarming. About two-thirds of the youth reported engaging in non-suicidal self-injury in the past year. A similar number had seriously considered suicide, while more than one-third of the youth had attempted suicide. These findings echo other national surveys that have found LGBTQ youth to be at a significantly greater risk of suicide.
The mental health challenges trans youth face likely arise from their experience with discrimination, violence and sexual harassment, which are also documented in the study, as well as a lack of support at home and school. Two-thirds of the youth reported experiencing discrimination because of their gender identity, and 70 per cent had experienced sexual harassment. About half of the older youth (19 to 25) reported experiencing cyberbullying. Studies have linked bullying to an increase risk of childhood mental health problems.
The youth also faced barriers when accessing healthcare services. Of those who had access to a family doctor, only 15 per cent reported feeling “very comfortable” talking to them about their trans-specific healthcare needs, such as hormone therapy. Many youth did not access health services out of fear their families would find out or that their doctors would not understand their needs.
The survey did yield some positive findings. Unsurprisingly, the study found that transgender youth who felt connected to and supported by their family, their school and their community were more likely to report better overall health, particularly if they felt supported in identifying with their chosen gender.
Based on these findings, the researchers are calling for more services to help families understand and support transgender youth. They suggest steps schools can take to better support trans youth, such as training for school staff about gender identity development, creating gender-neutral washrooms and change rooms, and holding awareness and educational campaigns for students. Similarly, they recommend further training for healthcare professionals to better serve the needs of transgender individuals.
The anonymous survey took place between October 2013 and May 2014, and was answered in French and English.