Mental health is a difficult topic to talk about, but it is so vital to do. I have written a few posts about mental health in the past, including the time I got an award from the Deputy Prime Minister, but I have never done a post solely to do with the connection between gender and mental health – until today.
In Brighton there was a groundbreaking piece of research undertaken in the past few years. The Trans Needs Assessment was released last year and in the key findings document there is a section on mental health. According to the surveys undertaken, in the past five years nearly 4 out of 5 respondents had experienced depression, 1 in 3 respondents had self-harmed, and counselling support is incredibly limited. These figures only account for Brighton and Hove, and this is supposed to be one of the most progressive cities in the UK.
Why are the figures so high? What makes people feel depressed? Why do people feel the need to self-harm to go about their daily lives? I can’t answer everything obviously, everyone is different. However some other figures in the report may highlight some causes. Gender identity clinics leave 4 out of 10 people feeling dissatisfied, only 50% of trans respondents feel safe after dark in Brighton & Hove, compared to 81% overall. 6 in 10 people responding had experienced domestic violence, 1 in 3 community survey respondents had experienced homelessness at some point. The figures speak for themselves. It isn’t just the present people are worried about though, there is a concern about the quality of care they can hope to achieve in care homes and hospitals, worrying if staff and other users of the services would understand the specific needs of trans people. It is a sobering report, and I urge you to read through at least the key findings document which is just 3 pages of broken up text, or if you can, read through the main document which is much longer. It really is eye opening.
I am in a privileged position because I pass as male. It may not be how I wish to be seen, it may not present the real me, but the fact is I can deal with being seen as male 5/7 days a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I am in a position where I am employed full time, I have the ability to earn a living and a roof over my head. A lot of trans and non-binary people don’t have that privilege and those that do can often be blinded by their own privilege and not realise what it is like for others.
The fact is a lot of trans people struggle to get work, to get a stable abode. This applies especially to trans women, and even more so to trans women of colour. They are stigmatised in society as being ‘freaks’ and businesses, despite there being laws in place to prevent it, discriminate because they are worried their consumers may not like it, or they don’t like it themselves. Or you have the reverse and they will employ someone but treat them as a token, their one trans employee. It is a horrible situation to be in either way, and this can easily lead to a mental health break down, how would you feel knowing your gender is the only thing stopping you from being treated equally?
I mentioned gender clinics above, and these can be a major source of distress for any trans or non-binary person. The extremely long wait times (anywhere from 7 months to 2 years and longer), the invasive questions when you do get there (some Doctors are worse than others with this, and as a result have very short waiting lists as nobody wants to see them), the constant prodding and poking with needles for blood tests which are vital, it can be awful on the mind. Plus on top of that, you have the travel just to get to a clinic, as a lot of people are not lucky enough to live within a short distance, due to the small amount of them in existence. Brighton is thought to have one of the largest trans populations, and yet we still have no gender clinic and the nearest is in London, nearly 2 hours away by public transport including getting across the city.
A lot of trans people are then stealth or otherwise not out to people around them, so have to come up with reasons why they need time off work, or why they can’t go certain places, or do certain things. It is a constant battle and it is not easy. You have to weigh up the pros and cons of being out, being visible – something which I will be covering later in the month.
I remember hearing once that the average life expectancy for a trans person is 23. 23. That is only a year and a month older than I am now. I don’t know how true the statistics are, but honestly I have been to enough Trans Day of Remembrance events to know the figure can’t be much higher, especially for trans and non-binary people of colour. It is horrible, and made up from people being killed and injured in hate crimes, death due to medical failures where people have gone to back alley surgeons and had sub-par care in medical facilities based on their gender, it comes as a result of poor housing leading to death, and even suicide due to bullying and hate crimes. It is an awful reality that all trans people hold over themselves.
Other communities within the trans community have even higher ill mental health rates, as is the case with a lot of intersectional things. I already mentioned people of colour, but also trans and non-binary people with disabilities, especially those with hidden disabilities such as hearing loss, aspergers and autism spectrum disorders. Those with multiple facets to their identities face further discrimination, based on any of the aforementioned reasons, even sexuality. It can affect the way they are viewed by society and even medical professionals.
There is also a massive culture of pass the buck syndrome. I first expressed feelings about my gender identity at 16 to my mental health support worker. I explained I felt like I shouldn’t be a girl, like I was maybe something else, and the response I received was ‘let’s just focus on your depression, then we can look at other stuff’. I have never forgotten that to this day. The person I was working with was fantastic and she didn’t mean any harm, but her saying that set me back over a year in coming out and I was lucky it was only that long. I know people who have tried to come out as teenagers then been pushed back in the closet until their twenties and even older. Little things make a massive difference, and the lack of education around trans and non-binary identities mean people try to push them to one side, for fear of the unknown.
Another example of pass the buck comes often from GP’s, who explain they can’t refer people for therapy or counselling because they are under a gender clinic. Their lack of knowledge shows that they are unaware of the vast number of people going through these clinics and the lack of time, a lot of places such as London only offer appointments every 5-7 months, someone who is suffering from depression may not be able to wait 5 days, let alone 5 months to talk to someone, and even then, it is not the sort of counselling they may need. It is hard to find a therapist/counsellor who looks at you as a whole person too, as I found. I have had some fantastic people I have worked with, but for all of them I have had issues of some sort. I have had some that focus solely on my trans identity, trying to root everything back to my gender, and by contrast some that ignore it all together, like it just isn’t something that affects me. It is hard to strike a balance but it is very important at the same time.
Mental health isn’t easy to talk about, even I struggle and I am generally quite open about it. Now I am on medication I have found it helping me somewhat and I generally feel a lot better in myself, but not everyone is so lucky. Some do not want to take medication (which is a decision I can fully respect), some are unable to, some find medication doesn’t work. I find a mix of medication and counselling helps me, but it isn’t for everyone. The most important thing about mental health is just to check in with other people. Not everyone will want to talk, especially not at first, but you have to be open to talking if you can. Even just asking ‘Are you OK?’ can help someone. It is about starting that conversation.
Tell me, what are your experiences with mental health? Are you a sufferer of ill mental health? Or have you supported someone? Talk to me if you like, if you’d rather not leave a comment, send me a message via email, Facebook, or any other of my social media links, and I will reply to you. I don’t leave anyone without an answer.
I hope today’s post has been helpful to some, educational to others, keep your eyes peeled for my next post in the A-Z Challenge, M for Mum.