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The importance of Transgender Awareness Week

This week (16-22nd of November) is Transgender Awareness Week in Aotearoa: a week to celebrate transgender people and  raise awareness to the issues faced by transgender (trans) people nationwide.

So why do we need to raise awareness?

Transgender people are more at risk mental health issues than their cisgender (where their gender matches their sex) peers.  Risk of suicide is also greater for trans people. Up to 10% of transgender people report having engaged in suicidal behaviour in the year prior to the being asked and 22-43% have engaged in a suicide attempt at some stage of their life[1] which is significantly higher than that of the cisgender population.

But why is suicide risk so high in transgender people? Transgender people experience high levels of distress when their gender does not match the gender they were assigned at birth.  In Aotearoa, there is limited access to services for transgender people to have their genders affirmed. Gender affirmed does not mean CHANGING their gender, but it is having their body match the gender that they identify. Many transgender people have extensive waits to access the medical treatment that they need to affirm their gender through transitioning.  Not only is this wait stressful but the process of transition can be a time of stress and can cause significant disruptions in their life.  These disruptions can increase the risk of experiencing anxiety and negative changes in mood.

Transgender people also face issues daily including stigma in all areas of life such as accessing healthcare and challenges finding employment and housing.  So much so that transgender people are more likely to experience homelessness than their cis peers.  Whānau members may not be supportive of the transgender person’s transition and this can further lead to feelings of disconnection, isolation and rejection.

So how can you support someone who is transgender? There are so many ways that transgender people can be supported by those around them. A simple example might be asking a trans person what their preferred name and pronoun is.  Research has shown that when a transgender person has one situation where their chosen name is used, suicidal thinking can decrease by 29%[2]. Another thing that is helpful is accepting a trans person where they are at. People who are trans seek varying stages of transition for themselves and we cannot assume that all want to fully transition. Some may be happy with being referred to by their chosen name and pronoun, whilst others may wish to fully medically transition.  It is important to be supportive and meet them where they are at.

There are many other things that you can do to support your trans whānau, colleagues, and friends. For further information, the following may be helpful:

Six things to celebrate this transgender awareness week

Transgender people and suicidality 

Gender Dynamics is an advocacy and support service that provides education and resources

The Ministry of Health resource page which contains a listing of a number sites with resources


 --By Dr Liesje Donkin

Workplace Wellbeing Lead

[1] Suicide Prevention Resource Centre [SPRC], 2008

[2] Russell, S., Pollitt, A., Li, G. & Grossman, A. (2018). Chosen name is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.02.003

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