Monday August 21st 2023

Intolerant society creates additional strain on young people’s mental health

In the lead up to Wear It Purple Day on Friday 25th August, BEING wanted to get a better understanding of the lived experience of LGBTQIA+ young people and the impact of gender identity on their mental health. We spoke to Youth Peer Workers to learn from their experience and the people they work with.

BEING: “What additional mental health pressures do gender-diverse young people face and why?”

“In addition to all the normal challenges of being a teenager, and moving through high school, TAFE or other education, or entering the workforce, LGBTQIA+ young people also have the compounded force of moving through these experiences while having to constantly advocate for yourself (if you are ‘out’) or hide your true self from the world (if you are not ‘out’).”

“Many gender-diverse young people choose which parts of their life they are openly gender-diverse in, at times choosing to remain closeted to avoid the constant need for self-advocacy, at the expense of living as their true self.

“In the mental health service sphere, many young people may feel conflicted in disclosing their gender identities to clinicians and services in fear of experiencing invalidation of their gender identity and the violence inherent in dismissive attitudes and misgendering by staff.”

BEING: “How has the experience of being an LGBTQIA+ young person changed over the last couple of years?

“Over the last couple years, with the help of the internet, trans and gender-diverse identities have seen a boost in normalisation due to media representation such as in TV, music and social media. For example, the popular TV shows ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Heartstopper’ both feature transgender actors playing transgender characters; the indie alternative musicians Cavetown and Ethel Cain are known to be trans; and social media influencers AJ Clementine, Georgie Stone and Zoe Terakes are popular on Instagram and TikTok.”
“But increased visibility does not necessarily mean increased protection from harm. Though media representations certainly celebrate and validate trans existence, in the day-to-day, not much has radically changed.”

BEING: “What message would young people most want to send to “the establishment” about their experience as a gender-diverse person, thinking specifically about the mental health system?

“Something I’ve seen echoed heaps by my gender-diverse young consumers in the past couple of years, is the desire for NSW mental health services to see trans young people for who they are: not as their assumed genders at birth or for their legal names, but as the people they present themselves to be.”
“The public mental healthcare system can be inherently invalidating: legal names are attached to MRNs, and nursing staff in management of medicolegal risks, when dispensing medication, must confirm with the individual their legal name. Bathrooms, if not gender-neutral, are gendered by “male” and “female”. At times in public inpatient adult units, the binary genders are separated.”
“More than anything, young people just want their experience and criticism of services that only offer inflexible gender binaries to be validated.”

BEING: “How do you think young people would like the rest of society to respond to “Wear it Purple Day?”

“That it’s not just Wear It Purple Day. They want the message of “wear it purple” to be recognsied every day, week and month of the year! Young gender-diverse people don’t just want to see token allyship one day in the year: the allyship must be year-round.”
“To be an ally, young people want to see their staff and clinicians actively work in referring to gender-diverse people accurately, correcting themselves when they get it wrong, and respecting the boundaries of young people when they are closeted to family.”
“And it’s okay to get it wrong; young people often times know when you’re trying, and when you’re not. Trans and gender-diverse young people are an incredibly resilient and capable bunch.”

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience in addressing these questions.