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Suicide in Transgender Youth Put Glaring Spotlight on Urgent Need for Virtual Safe Place for Online Crisis Intervention and Mental Wellness Mentoring
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, and Trent Gerdeman, Marketing Intern, Hope Xchange Nonprofit
NOTE: This is the second is a two-part blog post series, with our first blog post, “Suicide Leading Cause of Death for LGBTQ Youth - Why Not Reaching Out for Help & How to Address Disparities in Care for Mentally Ill in this Community,” speaking to not only the heartbreaking suicide rates in this community but also proposing an early intervention solution for those who are also struggling with a mental illness diagnosis. This post addresses why we feel a separate virtual safe space is needed just for transgender youth based on our own personal experiences mentoring in this community.
Suicide Rates and Attempts in Transgender Community
The Trevor Project reports that nearly 50% of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their own lives, and 25% report having made a suicide attempt. The National Discrimination Survey puts this number at 40%.
In the Transgender Discrimination Survey, a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had a low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
In the largest online survey of transgender adults 18 and older examining the experiences of 27,715 respondents in all 50 states, the 2015 US Transgender Survey Report reported:
Unique Challenges Faced by Transgender Youth
When you consider the difficulties transgender youth go through during puberty and early adulthood these statistics, while gut-wrenching, really aren’t surprising. A recent blog post on Transgender Mental Health addressed both of these crucial developmental stages:
Add to this, the many societal challenges summarized by Advocates for Youth: deliberately incorrect and disrespectful use of names and pronoun; lack of access to appropriate restroom facilities; lack of access to appropriate locker room facilities; rigid dress codes that differ for males and female; confidentiality issues; and lack of role models and accurate information.
What is abundantly clear is that the transgender community continually faces problems that gender-conforming individuals can only imagine. Social ostracism, physical assault, and verbal harassment are just the beginning. Further, the education system is not given the proper tools in order to help these individuals feel safe and secure.
Glaring Disparities in Mental Health in Our Young Transgender Populations Also Indicate Clear Call to Action
In a May 2016 editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics by Johanna Olson-Kennedy, MD, Medical Director of The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles she discusses the disparities in mental health in young transgender populations.
She starts her article by quoting another recent study, also published in JAMA Pediatrics, that found over 40% of the nearly 300 young transgender women had at least one mental health or substance abuse issue. Over a third of the participants had major depressive episodes, and 20% had contemplated suicide at some point over the prior 30 days.
And she concludes with: "while the prevalence rates of depression are notably higher in this community sample of transfeminine youth and young adults than in cohorts recruited from dedicated transgender care sites, underscoring the potential influence of lack of access to services, both medical and mental health, the need for more accessible and improved mental health care for transgender youth is clear, but addressing this need is complicated.”
Yes, it is clearly complicated. But clearly something needs to be done. And why not ask those who are in need of help? We did. And while we haven't yet asked a representative sample, we started with the young transgender our CEO and Founder mentors and his answers were not surprising. They were also a clear and compelling call to action.
Personal Note From our CEO On Why We Are Developing A Program Specifically Targeting Transgender Youth
In Hope Xchange’s Hope for Bipolars mentoring program I mentor a transgender youth, a sweet vulnerable bright kid one year away from law school who I adore and who has the misfortune of living in a rural area of North Carolina. The day after Trump got elected, he sent me a text saying he had been beat up and that his gay friends’ car tires were being slashed with harassing notes left on car windows.
They sent him girl clothes suggesting he wear them. That night, he cracked his tooth while sleeping. And, to make matters worse, this was the same community in which the KKK decided it now was empowered to march.
Upon hearing about the fact that Hope Xchange was embarking on this program and that I wanted his input, here is what my transgender mentee had to say and he gave me his permission to share with you:
"Awesome. Hearing that this is happening is so incredible. I have many young trans friends who also have bipolar and a program like this will absolutely be live saving ❤️ " ~Alix
Further, my younger brother is also transgender so I am intimately familiar with the personal pain and anguish of gender dysphoria, transitioning, and the difficulties regarding whether or not to undergo surgery, seeking physical and mental health treatment, and establishing healthy relationships. I realize that the needs of those in the transgender community are unique and that this population is simply grossly underserved.
I am also gay. I fear that life for our children who are gay or questioning their own sexual identity is only going to get more difficult in this current political climate. And, that something clearly must be done.
Hence, a separate password-protected virtual safe space with live chat, messaging, immediate access to a therapist (if deemed necessary), an online resource center, social network functionality, a mobile app to access the web platform, as well as an option to request a peer mentor and advocate will be provided as part of a prototype model for both the LGB and QT communities. Via the mobile app, we will also be able to look up exactly where they are located in case of emergencies and the police need to be contacted.