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An open letter from Mermaids on World Suicide Prevention Day

10th September 2019

Change now to save transgender children from suicide

Mermaids has been supporting transgender children and young people for nearly 25 years. We know that there is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child or young person to suicide. We see, first hand, the terrible psychological trauma suffered by some of our service users because they live in a society that seems unable or unwilling to understand and accept them.

Overall, the number of suicides in the UK fell between 2017-2018 but the number of under 19’s taking their own lives in that period rose by 15%.(1) Meanwhile, research from the charity Stonewall shows that nearly half of young trans people have attempted suicide.(2)

On World Suicide Prevention Day 2019, we’re sending the positive message that simple, easy changes to the way we speak about and treat transgender people can prevent children and teenagers from suicidal thoughts.

Many people don’t realise how powerful it can be to show simple acts of respect.

Studies show that, just by using a transgender person’s correct name and pronouns, their anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts reduce to almost the same as their cisgender counterparts.(3)

We know that by failing to support trans children and young people, we are losing them to suicide.

Teachers, doctors and the police have a duty to care for the health, happiness and safety of trans young people and their families, as they do for everyone. If they don’t act on this duty, many more transgender people will face some of the causes of suicidal thoughts, such as anxiety, exclusion, depression, bullying, substance abuse, self-harm and homelessness. We’re calling for all teachers, doctors and police officers in the UK to be given obligatory training in gender diversity.

Today, we’re renewing our call for the Government to recognise transgender children’s rights, whether they’re girls, boys or non-binary. For too long, our politicians have presided over a damaging, obstructive and distressing legal framework and health system. For the happiness and safety of our service users, we call for affirmative care to be a requirement in both guidance and law. It is nothing short of a national scandal that the current system is leading smart, talented, creative, motivated, kind and loved young people to consider ending their lives. It is time the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was changed to allow transgender people of all ages to self-identify.

We are at the forefront of one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. Young transgender people are losing their lives. Our society must stop failing them.

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ONS (Office for National Statistics) found overall decrease in number of suicides in the general population between 2017-2018 but also a 15% increase in under 19’s taking their own lives:

2017 Stonewall School Report found that 45% of trans young people at some point have attempted suicide, see pp. 31 : https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/the_school_report_2017.pdf

A survey carried out for NHS Digital by NatCen Social Research and the Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester found that 9% of the population aged 16-25 is estimated to have attempted suicide in their lifetime, see pp. 302:

Study: “Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth“, J Adolesc Health. 2018 Oct;63(4):503-505. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.02.003. Epub 2018 Mar 30.
See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29609917

This study aimed to examine the relation between chosen name use, as a proxy for youths’ gender affirmation in
various contexts, and mental health among transgender youth.

Data come from a community cohort sample of 129 transgender and gender nonconforming youth from three U.S.
cities. We assessed chosen name use across multiple contexts and examined its association with depression, suicidal
ideation, and suicidal behavior.

After adjusting for personal characteristics and social support, chosen name use in more contexts was associated
with lower depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior. Depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior
were lowest when chosen names could be used in all four contexts.

For transgender youth who choose a name different from the one given at birth, use of their chosen name in
multiple contexts affirms their gender identity and reduces mental health risks known to be high in this group.