BY DANIEL TIRABASSI
The trans community tends to deal with many types of mental health issues — all of which need to be addressed.
Transgender people that go through a medical transition need to have an important psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria. However, there are many other mental health issues that the trans community deals with that do not get addressed, often due to the required dysphoria diagnosis. There are also misdiagnoses that occur because of a person being unaware of their own gender identity. And, to top it all off, there are general issues that the community deals with that are rarely properly dealt with in transgender people.
The misdiagnoses are a great place to start when it comes to the mental health of people who may be transgender. One popular misdiagnosis that many transgender people have experienced while coming to terms with their identity is bipolar disorders. Often gender dysphoria can present similarly to bipolar disorders. If a therapist or psychologist is not familiar gender dysphoria, they can believe that the highs and lows of dealing with a variant gender identity is a bipolar disorder.
Another very common diagnosis in the transgender community, though not always manifesting as a misdiagnosis, is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is not known if these disorders and gender dysphoria have any actual connection or if this is just an odd coincidence, but it is a fact that needs to be made clear. In a group that I facilitate twice a month, about 80% of attendees have stated that they have been diagnosed at some point in life with one or both of these disorders.
This can lead to an issue that many LGBTQ+ people deal with — addiction. It is common for LGBTQ+ people to cope with their identity by heavily using drugs and alcohol. The LGBTQ+ community actually has the highest addiction statics when it comes to percentage of population. The transgender community in particular has the highest statics within the LGBTQ+ community. Many end up having easy access to drugs such as Valium and Klonopin, due to a diagnosis of a bipolar disorder, and drugs such as Adderall, due to the diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. These drugs are very easy to misuse and can be done in a way that is easy to hide away from the world. This means that many suffer with their addiction quietly, making it next to impossible for others to figure out that there is even an issue.
These diagnoses and addiction issues paired with an uncertainty of self that many transgender people feel, depression is a major issue that runs rampant in the transgender community. This issue can actually hit at many different points during a transition. Some experience it when trying to come out to loved ones, others during or after surgeries, while others develop it from living in a world that does not accept or understand who they are.
The suicide attempt and idealization rates in the transgender community are much higher than the averages. Many surveys have reported the attempt rate in the transgender community is close to 50% while the idealization rate is near 98%. These numbers are truly outrageous.
Another issue that is a side effect from the accumulation of all these other issues is social anxiety. It is hard for transgender people to feel comfortable in a world that tells them they do not belong. It is to be hard in a world that makes it seem like transgender people are extremely rare or unnatural.
Because there are so many negative issues, people believe that the solutions are harder than they actually can be. Misdiagnoses can stop if all mental health professionals are properly trained in signs and treatment of gender dysphoria. This can start with the inclusion of World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standard of Care into schooling and training for all mental health professionals. Though mental health providers can choose whether to address gender issues, all should be trained properly in diagnosing these issues to ensure that misdiagnoses occur less often in transgender people.
There also needs to be more research done on the connection of ADD and ADHD and transgender people. If there is a connection between the disorders and the trans community, understanding that could help with addressing with the issue — which could then possibly happen without the use of medication.
The combination of the lessening of misdiagnoses and understanding any connections between transition and ADD or ADHD can help to curb the community’s dependency on substances. Another thing that has been proven to help with addiction is transgender people’s awareness of their identity. Oftentimes, transgender people can count their time sober by also counting an important moment in their transition. Some can remember the day they came out as the day they became sober; other times it can be a surgery date or a name change or any other milestones that can help drive a transgender person to sobriety. This means that the best treatment for many transgender people is just living the life that makes them feel whole.
Depression is a harder issue to combat. This is mainly because the onset of depression can be triggered by a large number of events. However, one way to try and stave off depression is the introduction of self-care. Self-care looks very different for everyone, but the gist is to give yourself time to enjoy being you. Some use spa-like treatments such as facials, pedicures, manicures or haircuts and styles. Others focus on stress relief through exercise, the creation of art, a long bath or shower or periodically getting a massage.
The increased threat of suicide along with social anxiety can not necessarily be completely solved from within, but sort of can be at the same time. Many of these issues come from the insecurity that lives in a person told on a constant basis they should not exist. Though a change in social perception will surely make these feelings less prevalent, the release of those insecurities from within can be just as helpful. By becoming secure in who one is by blocking out the negativity of the world, the thought of leaving the world or exiting social situations become less intense because you believe that you have something to offer the world.
Too often, the focus of many transgender people is how others react to who they truly are. That focus takes a toll on mental health for people from all walks of life. By shifting your focus from others’ reactions to controlling your reaction to others, your mental health becomes stronger and it becomes harder to break you down. So take time for yourself; become whoever you want to be and focus on you more than others. Then these issues and statistics will start to all but melt away.
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