More than half of transgender youth in Prairies have self-harmed, new study says
But Man. and Sask. teens also more likely to report positive family relationships than Canadian peers
An alarming number of transgender youth in the Prarie provinces have attempted to harm or even kill themselves, a new study has found, and they also report higher rates of bullying and discrimination than transgender youth elsewhere in Canada.
But at the same time, more transgender teens and young adults in Manitoba and Saskatchewan say they've had positive relationships with their families and doctors compared to their peers across Canada, according to the study.
The findings suggest that transgender youth in the two Prairie provinces experience high levels of distress as a result of harassment, violence and discrimination, says report co-author Tracey Peter, the associate head of sociology at the University of Manitoba.
The study also found that young people who feel connected and supported by those around them are less likely to report engaging in self-harm, but a significant number of Prairie youth are still at risk.
"When trans youth are supported, when they have access to affirming and inclusive care, when they go to affirming and inclusive schools, they don't have the negative impact," said Peter.
"We also then know that youth that are high on those risk factors, low on the protective factors, the rates for suicidality just skyrocket. So there is kind of two paths, and I guess what we really need to concentrate on is how do we get more trans youth down the path that leads to healthy, functioning, secure lives — which is what we want for all youth?"
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Almost half have attempted suicide, study says
The Prairies study, released Thursday, is based on the responses of 67 Manitoba and Saskatchewan transgender teens and young adults who participated in the Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey, a 2015 nationwide study involving a total of 923 respondents age 14-25.
Respondents were surveyed between October 2013 and May 2014 about their home and school situations, their physical and mental health, and issues such as access to inclusive medical care and personal safety.
The report found that about 50 per cent of school-age youth from the Prairies said they had attempted suicide — compared to 37 per cent nationwide — while 60 per cent of all respondents from Manitoba and Saskatchewan said they had engaged in self-harming behaviour, compared to 24 per cent nationally.
It also found 53 per cent of transgender school-age youth (age 14-18) from Saskatchewan and Manitoba said they were bullied at school, while 74 per cent of transgender adults age 19-25 said they had been treated unfairly due to their appearance.
About 39 per cent of respondents from Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported being sexually assaulted — the highest rate among the regions and above the national rate of 23 per cent.
School-age youth from the Prairies reported higher rates of almost all types of drug use compared to the national sample, she said.
Positive feelings about family
However, the report also found that 54 per cent of surveyed youth from Saskatchewan and Manitoba said their doctors knew about their transgender identity, compared to 37 per cent nationally. It also found that fewer youth from the Prairies reported feeling uncomfortable talking with their doctor about transgender issues.
More of them also reported having positive feelings about their families: 59 per cent agreed with the statement "my family cares about me" and 86 per cent agreed with "my family understands me," compared to 47 and 70 per cent, respectively, of the national sample.
Peter said some are taking advantage of services being offered by community-based organizations, such as Rainbow Resource Centre and Klinic in Winnipeg, that help transgender youth as well as their families and friends, but more can be done.
"We're doing a great job for some trans youth; in terms of those that are accessing services, we are providing very good service," she said.
"But there's still a relatively large population of trans youth that aren't accessing services, and I think that's what we really need to focus on."
The national survey was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Gender and Health.