Transgender youth 5 times more likely to attempt suicide, study finds

Transgender youth are far more likely than their peers to think about suicide or attempt it, a study published earlier this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found.

If you need help, find where to get it at the end of this story

Anastasia Preston, trans community outreach coordinator for P.E.I.’s PEERS Alliance, speaks at Transgender Day of Remembrance in Charlottetown in 2020. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Transgender youth are far more likely than their peers to think about suicide or attempt it, a study published earlier this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found.

The study included Statistics Canada findings from the 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth, which surveyed 6,800 adolescents, aged 15 to 17, from across Canada.

The survey included questions about sexual preference and identity, bullying, as well as thinking about or attempting suicide. It found transgender youth are five times more likely to think about suicide, and 7.6 times more likely to attempt it.

"The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a very stressful time for all young people, but particularly for gender and sexual minority teens," said co-author Dr. Ian Colman, a professor at the University of Ottawa's School of Epidemiology and Public Health, in a news release.

Study co-author Dr. Ian Colman wants to see more support for transgender youth. (University of Ottawa)

"These findings, showing dramatic increases in suicide risk, should sound a clarion call that additional support is needed."

Colman called for suicide prevention programs specifically targeted to transgender, nonbinary and sexual minority adolescents, as well as gender-affirming care for transgender adolescents. He also suggested primary prevention programs aimed at public awareness and promoting inclusivity could lead to less stress among sexual minority and transgender youth.

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Difficult even for adults

Anastasia Preston, Trans Community Outreach Coordinator for P.E.I.'s PEERS Alliance, is familiar with the toll societal pressure can take on mental health.

Preston said even now, as a 33-year-old trans woman, she can feel the impact.

"It's part of the reason I do the work that I do," Preston told Laura Chapin, co-host of CBC P.E.I.'s Island Morning..

"Being a trans youth myself I know the mental health problems that can arise from a society that quite often tells you you shouldn't exist, and they don't want you to exist."

Even when your local community is supportive, she said, news from other parts of the world can bring you down.

'The world is constantly telling you that you're wrong'

Preston describes her own transition as difficult.

Her memories of realizing she was trans go back to being nine years old.

"I didn't know the words, because in the 1990s we didn't have these words floating around," said Preston.

"When I was a little girl growing up I was told I was a boy by people and I acted based on what my brother did. It wasn't an internal sense of, I'm a boy and this is how I should act."

But her transition came much later. She did not feel like there was space in the world for her as a woman.

"The world is constantly telling you that you're wrong, you shouldn't exist. You hear words like abomination and freak," she said.

She was close to suicide five years ago, she said, when a call with her mother finally got her on the right track. Other studies have shown that parental support is crucial for trans youth, Preston said.

PEERS offers two programs to support trans youth. 

Saplings is a trans youth social group, which creates a safe space where they can talk to others with the same experience.

Roots and Shoots is aimed at families and how they can support their trans youth.

How to get help

If you are a trans youth and need immediate help, or you know someone who needs immediate help, that help is available.

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, or text through their website.
  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 or text (45645)
  • P.E.I. Helpline: 1-800-218-2885.

If you are interested in PEERS Alliance services, here is their website.

With files from Laura Chapin