Research projects

From blues to rainbows: The mental health needs of young people with diverse gender

Principal researcher

Associate Professor Lynne Hillier

Institution

Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

Funding

$200,902

Award type

beyondblue National Priority Driven Research Program

Project completion year

2015

Project brief

It has become increasingly clear that important differences between same sex attracted and gender questioning youth make it impossible to gather adequate data from both groups in one research design. Therefore the From Blues to Rainbows project was implemented, focussed specifically on gender questioning young people. Because of the extra layers of complexity surrounding the questioning of gender, and because so little is known about gender questioning young people, a more in-depth methodology was necessary. An in-depth online interview combined with a short survey was implemented, allowing both quantitative normative data and qualitative experiential data to be gathered.

Research questions that were explored include:

  • What risk factors for depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide are specific to gender questioning young people?
  • What are the experiences of gender questioning young people in terms of health service, education-based, social network and social/activist group responses?
  • What protective factors and behaviours decrease the risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide for gender diverse young people and how can these be encouraged and strengthened?
  • Based on these understandings, what constitutes supportive service provision in mental health, sexual health, education and other areas?

Main messages

From Blues to Rainbows found that half of the gender diverse and transgender young people surveyed were diagnosed with depression and two thirds had experienced verbal abuse.

Almost all of the 189 young Australians surveyed had experienced abuse because of their gender diversity, ranging from verbal threats to physical violence. One fifth had experienced physical abuse, and 90 per cent had thought about suicide in response to that experience of physical abuse. The street (40 per cent) and school (38 per cent) were the most common places for threats and harm to occur.

The report also found:

  • 66% of participants had seen a health professional for their mental health in the past year
  • 38% had suicidal thoughts and a quarter had spoken to a medical professional about it
  • One in three did not feel supported by their family and suffered much higher rates of stress, suicide and depression
  • 45% were diagnosed with anxiety compared with an average 25% of the population
  • 66% had experienced verbal abuse due to their gender identity
  • 62% had participated in some form of activism (e.g. participating in a march) which was a protective factor

However, the report also highlighted that parental, peer and school support can make a huge and positive impact to that young person’s wellbeing, as support from parents, peers and teachers was a major protective factor in their wellbeing.

The findings will be presented to policy makers and schools to suggest better supports for gender diverse and transgender young people and to educate teachers and parents, whose influence is crucial to the young person’s mental health and wellbeing

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