Is the American population normalizing mental illness into society? If not a mental illness, then why are there so many signs of mental illness within the transgender community and also such high rates of suicide?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of transgender is “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”
A study done by The Williams Institute in 2016 found that 1.4 million people in America identify themselves as transgender. This is according to an analysis based on both state and federal data.
When asked about the high rates of suicide, Karen Deysher, program manager of LGBT Student Services, said, “it’s because of the way their environment is impacting them.”
Deysher continued by saying that because of the socialized views of gender, transgender people are not happy, because of how they are treated based on societal constructs that are not being met because of their gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria is, by definition from the DSM, “a condition in which someone is intensely uncomfortable with their biological gender and strongly identifies with, and wants to be, the opposite gender.”
To back Deysher’s claim, the American Association of Suicidology, or AAS, states that, “stressors that LGBT individuals encounter — such as discrimination and harassment — are directly associated with suicidal behavior.”
In other words, the reason why there are so many suicides in the transgender community is because of discrimination. This is a very good point and is something that should be looked at. The problem with saying that discrimination is the only factor to suicide, however, is that data about other forms of discrimination does not correlate with such high rates of suicide.
According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, black people in America considered themselves way more discriminated against than whites. But looking at the data of suicide rates of black and whites, a white male has a 24.6 percent rate of suicide in comparison to a 9.4 percent rate of suicide for black males. In fact, the rates of suicide for people who are not white are significantly lower than those who are white.
This isn’t to say that discrimination against transgender individuals does not happen because that would be a lie. It does occur and all forms of discrimination are wrong. However, discrimination can’t be the only factor of transgender suicides.
The AAC website states, “Most people who die by suicide have a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder.” It also says that, “Psychiatric disorders, primarily depression and anxiety … ” are factors that contribute to suicide in the LGBT community.
A study done on gender dysphoria found that at least 62.7 percent of the sample of people getting sex reassignment surgery had at least one psychiatric comorbidity, which is the presence of one or more additional mental disorders. Unfortunately, not many studies like this have been done.
Why hasn’t there been more research on the topic in order to prevent transgender suicides? Safe spaces and inclusion are one option, but not an actual solution. Suicide.org says that untreated mental illness is a key factor in 90 percent of all suicides. Only until recently the DSM changed it’s definition of “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria.” Is society ignoring mental illness or is it trying to normalize it?
The suicide rate for America is less than 3 percent. In fact, according to the 2015 USA Suicide Official Data, the rate of suicide was 1.6 percent. That said, the attempted suicide rate of transgender individuals is 41 percent according to a study done by The Williams Institute School of Law and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Data also shows that even after physical transitions to the opposite gender the rates of suicide get higher.
Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “It is a disorder similar to a ‘dangerously thin’ person suffering [from] anorexia who looks in the mirror and thinks they are ‘overweight.’”
The American College of Pediatricians, ACPeds, urges legislators to reject policies on transgender individuals in terms of sex changes, because of the harm it can do to a child who believes their life is normal based on chemical and surgical impersonation. “Facts —not ideology —determine reality”, said the ACPeds.
All in all, more research needs to be done on the subject. America needs to decide whether it will continue to normalize mental illness or further investigate and prevent deaths among its citizens. The AAC states that future research needs to be done in order to effectively make prevention and intervention strategies.
No one knows what these individuals are going through, therefore it is important that society does what it can to help those who are struggling with gender dysphoria Reach out to a friend, find someone to talk to and ultimately just be a nice and decent person. Help is always one phone-call away.