Growing up is hard, what with trying to navigate the shark infested waters of high school friendships, your first romantic relationships, constantly changing physical bodies and realizing that the independence you craved after graduation is more terrifying than empowering. For those who identify as transgender, this process can be even more complicated.
A recent survey from Australia conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute confirms transgender youth struggle with serious mental health issues at a much higher rate than their cisgender peers. It found that trans youth are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and have a much higher risk of experiencing bullying and rejection by their peers.
As a result, four out of five transgender youth reported that they had self-harmed, and almost half of those surveyed said they had attempted suicide.
But the problems addressed in the Australian survey aren't contained by the Tasman Sea. According to a youth study done in 2012, New Zealand experiences similar issues of higher rates of mental health and suicide among our own trans youth communities.
The study found the numbers in New Zealand were lower - only half of trans youth had self-harmed and 20 percent had attempted suicide- but practical steps are needed to prevent the "considerable discrimination and mistreatment" that trans youth experience.
Dr. Jaimie Veale studies transgender discrimination and barriers to health at Waikato University. One area she believes New Zealand can improve on is trans youth's access to mental health services and proper health care.
"Obviously if you're unable to access mental health care, having those mental health difficulties can be much more common," says Veale.
The Australian survey mirrors Veale's comments, concluding almost 40 percent of those who sought psychiatric services are not happy with what they receive - largely because of a lack of psychiatrists experienced with trans issues or being told that their trans identification was just a phase. Overall, health care professionals just weren't able to provide the support students needed.
To improve on the mental health of trans teens, Veale believes it is important to improve support and inclusivity policies in our schools, as well as services available to families and friends of trans youth to help youth feel safe and loved.
"Trans youth who [have] support inside and outside their families [are] far less likely to have considered suicide," says Veale. "Really, what this comes down to is the need for having school environments which are affirming of transgender youth, being able to provide support for families to support trans youth, and having health care services which are knowledgeable and accessible."