Mermaids UK is breaking down the stigma of Childhood Gender Dysphoria
What began as a small support network set up in 1995 by a group of concerned parents of children with gender issues, has now expanded into a fantastic organisation. Mermaids UK aims to support children and young people up to the age of 19 living with gender dysphoria, their families and professionals involved in their care.
What is gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. It's sometimes known as gender identity disorder (GID), gender incongruence or transgenderism. It has only recently been considered that children can experience gender dysphoria and it is still in the early stages of its understanding, yet Mermaids UK is passionate about supporting these vulnerable people and raising awareness of this condition.
Early signs that a child is suffering from a gender identity dissociation to their biological sex, is their rejection of typical boy/girl’s toys for that of their opposite sex. It has often been believed that this is “just a phase” and they will “grow out” of it. In many circumstances, this is the case, and there is an argument that children should not be required to play with sex-specific toys as this is forcing a gender identity upon them. However, some children do not grow out of this and can progress to experience distress and a feeling that they have the wrong biological parts. This is when it is integral that groups such as Mermaids UK are there to support these young people and educate the professional services on such a condition.
It is important also to note that gender dysphoria is not a mental health condition. However, the implications of hiding their true identity and/or bullying and ostracization upon revealing themselves as transgender is serious. Some people experiencing gender dysphoria suffer from depression and anxiety; can self-harm or attempt bodily mutilation; and in serious cases, commit suicide. Therefore, this highlights the importance of support for these people and understanding from the medical profession.
What is Mermaids UK doing to help?
Mermaids UK supports children, young people and their parents in many ways to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. The site offers a couple of forums, one for teens and another for parents, in which those affected can develop a support group with like-minded individuals. The charity also hosts a number of support groups throughout the year and residential weekends with the aim to improve self-esteem and social functioning within the children therefore reducing the risk of self-harm or suicide. They also educate the families on the condition, which can then help them to support their children and negotiate the education and health services.
A helpline run by volunteers is also in place for children and young people as well as their families, to talk to someone privately about their situation. An email service also runs alongside this in case of emergencies or the lack of a phone. [These details will be given below].
The charity also campaigns to raise awareness of gender dysphoria amongst children and young people, both among professionals and the general public. They hope to improve the understanding of GPs, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Social services and other professionals so that children and young adults suffering from gender dysphoria can seek the help they need.
Mermaids UK has been awarded Community Group of the Year at the 2016 National Diversity Awards and Pinknews’ Community Organisation of the Year, 2016. They have been shortlisted for the Children’s and Young People’s Awards’ Charity of the Year award in November, and for the European Diversity Awards’ Charity of the Year 2016 award. Plus, their helpline has been shortlisted for Helpline of the Year by the Helplines Partnership.
What can you do to help?
Mermaids UK is always seeking volunteers to help run their helplines. You can get in touch here: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/volunteering.html
Links to support groups
Telephone: 0844 334 0550
Mobile: 0344 334 0550
Teens Forum: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/transgender-teens-forum.html
Parent’s Forum: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/parents-support-forum.html
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