By. Tiffany Todd, LSW
Transgender Awareness Month is celebrated annually in November. It is a time to uplift the voices and experiences of the transgender community through education and action. InnerVoice values and supports equal rights for all human beings across the globe. Human rights are inherent and universal regardless of race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class or any other status.
Being transgender is not a mental illness. But people who are transgender do have higher levels of mental health concerns than the general population.
There are a variety of reasons why trans people are more likely to have mental health concerns. Rather than being loved and respected for who they are, transgender people often experience discrimination, isolation, threats, and even violence.
Transgender is a general term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the cultural expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans women and men identify as a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth. There are also nonbinary people who don’t describe their gender identity as exclusively male or female. About 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Being trans in an unfriendly world
It’s important to state at the outset that trans people experience the same struggles that other people do. Someone can have anxiety and identify as transgender — the two are not necessarily related.
However, research shows that trans people often face significant challenges related to how others treat them. Trans people may be bullied, disrespected, or shunned by their loved ones. Families who aren’t supportive may refuse to acknowledge a person’s chosen name and pronouns. This contributes to social isolation, which is a major risk factor for depression.
Transgender people typically experience discrimination on a daily basis. In a national survey of LGBTQ youth by the Trevor Project, 71% of transgender youth said they experienced discrimination based on their gender identity.
In some states, anti-trans legislation has been proposed or passed. This legislation may ban gender-affirming medical care or prevent transgender people from embracing their gender identities. These anti-trans campaigns impact trans youth, 93% of whom say they are concerned about transgender access to medical care, according to the Trevor Project.
Transgender people face high levels of physical violence. In fact, 37% say they have been physically threatened or harmed because of their gender identity. The numbers are even worse for trans women and girls. Some 55% of them have been physically threatened or harmed. Trans women of color suffer the most attacks, and are at the greatest risk for fatal violence among the transgender community.
The hate, negativity and violence focused on people who are transgender can make trans people feel like they’re not valuable, contributing to depression and anxiety.
In fact, nearly 80% of trans youth experience symptoms of anxiety, according to the Trevor Project’s survey. About 70% of trans youth experience symptoms of depression, and both LGBQT youth in general and trans youth in particular are at higher risk for suicide.
How to offer support
The prevalence of anxiety and depression among transgender people is understandable given the burdens they face. But research shows that support from others can make a huge difference. In fact, the same survey that found higher risk of suicide among trans youth also found those same youth were less than half as likely to attempt suicide when they were in an accepting community.
Here are a few things you can do to support the mental health of people who are transgender:
Respect their gender identity
Proper use of a person’s chosen name and pronouns shows respect and acceptance. Ask what their pronouns are and use them.
Ask about their mental health
If you sense someone is struggling, being a welcoming listener to them can make a real difference. But having resources at hand can also help.
- Trans Lifeline – This service provides support for trans and questioning people. It is run by people who are transgender. For support with both crisis and noncrisis situations, call 1-877-565-8860.
- The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. You can reach a counselor 24/7 by calling 1-866-488-7386, texting “START” to 678-678, or chatting from a computer.
Help them get therapy
Working with a therapist is often the best long-term method for addressing mental health concerns. Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to begin therapy, and transgender people in particular may worry about rejection or even attempts to “cure” them of their gender identity. Be sure you refer them to therapists who are supportive of LGBTQ clients.
You can show transgender people your support by understanding and speaking out against anti-trans discrimination and bias. Learn more about transgender issues: