The lives of trans young people have been at the front and centre of both political and public debate in recent years – often fueled by toxic, harmful rhetoric, especially online. The recent publication of the Department for Education’s draft guidance for schools on ‘gender questioning children’ and the Cass Review’s final report have intensified these debates, which the Review noted are too often compounded by misinterpretation and misinformation. All too often, those involved in the debate seem to forget that at the heart of these conversations are real young people, who are seeing their life played out in the media and their very existence in society questioned. And this all has an immediate and long-lasting impact on their mental health.

Evidence tells us that LGBTQ+ people are often exposed to stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and abuse in societies, which creates a hostile and stressful environment that can contribute to and cause poor mental health. While data on the mental health of trans young people in UK is incredibly sparse, and their experiences are often subsumed within broader statistics, research does show higher rates of mental health needs among the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.  For example, Just Like Us reports that LGBTQ+ young people are three times more likely to self-harm and twice as likely to have depression, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as to be lonely and worry about their mental health on a daily basis (Just Like Us, 2021).

But higher prevalence of mental health problems for trans young people is not inevitable. Instead, these high levels of need are predominantly due to the harm caused by discrimination, social attitudes and experiences. The toxicity that we are seeing play out will therefore only further exacerbate mental health problems for trans young people.

The rule not the exception

If we are serious about improving the lives of all young people, then this must include trans young people. They can no longer be treated like the exception to the rule. In fact, evidence tells us that when transgender young people are supported in their gender identity, then they have developmentally typical levels of depression and anxiety. So, how do we achieve this?

The first step is ending the harmful narrative against trans young people, which creates an increasingly hostile society that increases their risk of developing mental health problems. Trans young people need and deserve to feel safe and be free from harassment and discrimination. This must include creating inclusive and supportive environments where trans young people can thrive and be supported. We’re proud to be part of the Supportive Schools Campaign, which is calling on the Government to listen to LGBTQ+ youth and create school settings that support trans pupils to thrive.

But above all, we must remember the young people behind these debates. We need to listen to the voices of trans young people, understand their needs and shape support services in response. After all, young people are experts in their own lives and we need to remember this.

Author: Charlotte Rainer