Transgender persons and mental health in Australia: awards and accolades, but what about lived experiences?


2016 Queenslander of the Year and finalist for 2016 Australian of the Year, Group Captain Cate McGregor is the first ever transgender recipient and finalist of both these accolades.  Not only was she a winner in her own right, but she also was the author of the anti-discrimination speech given by the 2016 Australian of the Year, Lieutenant General David Morrison, a speech which went viral on social media, with over 1.6 million views.  

These awards come at a time of increased awareness of transgender issues. The Australian of the Year awards joins other public awards such Glamour Woman of the Year, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards in recognising the contribution of transgender persons and transgender experiences. While this increased public attention is laudable and overdue, such awards paint a more rosy picture of the lived experiences of transgender persons than reality. While some individuals such as Group Captain McGregor achieve a degree of recognition and public acceptance, this is far from representative of the Australian transgender experience. Rather, the reality is one of continued vulnerability and inequality.

Mental health is one such area where the continued vulnerability of transgender persons is concerning. In 2013 a team of researchers from Curtin University released the results of ‘The First Australian National Trans Mental Health Study’. In this publication, they describe the health of transgender Australians as being ‘in a state of crisis’. Of the nearly 100 persons surveyed, 57.2 per cent had been diagnosed with depression in their life and 39.9 per cent had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point. 20.5 per cent of participants reported thoughts of suicidal ideation or self-harm on at least half of the days in the two weeks preceding the survey. To put this in context, this places trans people as being 4 times more likely to have been diagnosed with depression and 1.5 times more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety compared to the rest of the Australian population.

This particular vulnerability to poor mental health is a complex issue. Yet simple steps can be taken to begin this process of addressing this problem, such as better public and professional education.  A 2012 study examined the experience of trans persons in their interactions with health care professionals. While on average most people were happy with the service they received, participants were less positive about how comfortable they felt and the usefulness of the information they received. Indeed, a significant number of participants reported that they were placed in the position of having to educate the health care professionals about trans issues.

Public recognition of transgender persons is a welcome first step towards counteracting the historical vulnerability and marginalisation of transgender persons. However, it is important that this is not merely rhetoric. The health space is one such area where action is particularly needed. 


This article was written by Genevieve Wilks, AJHR Student Editor summer semester, for The Student Voice.


Photo: Cate McGregor