Childline sees record number of counselling sessions about gender issues with many children having suicidal thoughts or self-harm due to transphobic bullying and abuse.
2,796 counselling sessions about gender identity and gender dysphoria were held by Childline last year. Children as young as 11 told counsellors they felt unhappy with their birth gender. These sessions have more than doubled since 2012/13. During the sessions, young transgender people frequently said they had:
- suicidal thoughts
- mental health issues stemming from abuse, bullying and lack of support.
Last year the Government’s Women and Equalities committee was told by support groups that the attempted suicide rate among young trans people is 48%.
A 16 year-old boy who identifies and a girl said, "I hate my body and feel hopeless and frustrated by mental health services. It’s really difficult to talk to my parents as they just don’t understand."
Bullying and lack of understanding leave children feeling unsupported
Young people who contacted Childline said that transphobic bullying often stopped them from speaking out. When they were honest about their gender identity, many complained they received cruel abuse which left them feeling desperate. Homophobic bullying or transphobic abuse, was mentioned in 450 counselling sessions last year.
Young trans people told us that lengthy waiting times, not enough services, and NHS staff lacking understanding all contributed to their mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts. Those who found the courage to talk to others often felt ‘humiliated' or 'criticised’ by them, and adults often dismissed it as ‘a phase’.
A 15-year-old boy who identifies as a girl said, "I came out as trans last year and wish I’d never said anything. People shout at me every day and call me stupid and ugly. I can’t cope anymore and I wish I could escape from everything."
If a young trans person’s feelings are not recognised or supported by families and services this can lead to significant emotional distress. An open and supportive culture is key to helping a child come to terms with who they are. Making them feel ashamed or dismissing their concerns could lead to children developing mental and physical problems.
How to help a young person
Parents can help their children who are coming to terms with trans or gender issues by:
- asking gentle questions to start the conversation so that they don’t feel pressurised. See our tips on talking about difficult topics
- listening to them and letting them know you’re not judging or blaming them
- letting them know that there are support groups and medical professionals who they can talk to
- giving them resources like Childline's advice on transgender identity and sexual orientation or Young Stonewall's LGBTQ info.
A 16-year-old girl who identifies as a boy said, "I recently came out as trans but my parents are transphobic and have been really horrible. They won’t accept who I am and it makes me feel awful. Because I’m feeling so down, I have started to cut myself."
Understanding gender identity
It really helps to know what different terms mean so you can feel more confident in supporting a young person.
Stonewall's glossary is a good place to start.
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “We cannot call ourselves a modern society if we stigmatise children just because they feel different. It's vital that children have support otherwise, as they tell us all too often, they suffer. When a child is made to feel ashamed about who they are, it can trigger serious mental health issues and crippling shame.
''It’s vital young people are confident that if they speak out they will be able to try and navigate these confusing and complex feelings without also having to fight prejudice and abuse. Adults must support a child as they explore what they’re feeling and guide them to get the right help when necessary.”
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