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Suicide risk in trans teens is as significant as deaths caused by cancer and drugs

Suicide risk in trans teens is as significant as deaths caused by cancer and drugs

The first ever Transgender Pride Scotland

Nearly 14% of transgender teens aged 11-19 reported a previous suicide attempt, a new study reveals.

Data published last month in Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on the subject shows that trans teenagers are at risk.

The authors found that ‘for transgender adolescents, no other sociodemographic characteristic was associated with suicide attempts.’

Put simply, the suicide attempt was directly associated with the difficulties they faced because they were transgender.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in young people

According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPH), ‘suicide remains a leading cause of death in young people in the UK, and the number of deaths due to intentional injuries and self-harm have not declined in 30 years.’

The figures highlighted in the study show that death from suicide for those aged between 15-19 is as high as the number of deaths caused by drug misuse and significantly, cancer.

For comparison, statistics provided by The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group show that ‘in the UK, only 1 in every 500 children under the age of 15 develops cancer. About 1,600 children (up to the age of 15) in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year.’

One in 500 is the same as 0.2%. This means that 0.2% of children develop cancer.

Compare this with the number of trans teens, which is 0.6% according to healthcare records. In other words, you are three times more likely to have a transgender child than for your child to have cancer.

How is the NHS tackling the situation?

Cancer causes the same incidence of death as suicide in our young people. Moreover, there is an unacceptably high rate of suicide attempt (and therefore success) in our transgender youth.

One could argue that both situations should be given due priority when it comes to assessing the best treatment pathway. And yet, the way in which the two are treated on the NHS, could not be more different.

The NHS Constitution sets out the following rights for patients with suspected cancer:

  • to access certain services commissioned by NHS bodies within maximum waiting times
  • alternatively, the NHS needs to take all reasonable steps to offer a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible;
  • to be seen by a cancer specialist within a maximum of two weeks from GP referral for urgent referrals where cancer is suspected.

There are a number of government pledges on waiting times for cancer, including:

  • if your GP suspects cancer then you can expect a maximum wait of two weeks to see a specialist.
  • if you are diagnosed with cancer then there should be a maximum of one month from when the decision is made to start treatment, to when the first treatment is given.

Despite the high risk of suicide among transgender teens, they are not afforded the same priority status.

If a GP failed to refer a suspected cancer patient for specialist care, their GMC registration is at risk.

Similarly, if an NHS specialist service did not offer that patient an appointment within two weeks, they are at risk of being sued. If a patient died unnecessarily due to the lack of care, then the family would hold the NHS to account by claiming compensation for the loss of their loved one.

Transgender equality

As it currently stands, it would seem that no one is being held accountable for the failure to provide the necessary support and treatment to trans teens.

The 2016 Parliamentary report on transgender equality found serious deficiencies in health treatment of trans people and gender identity services.

‘GPs too often lack understanding and in some cases, this leads to appropriate care not being provided.’

To put this in context, the waiting time for a first appointment at the NHS Tavistock Clinic which specializes in the care of transgender youth is currently 14 to 18 months from the date of referral.

To be clear, if your GP suspects your child has cancer, they will be seen within two weeks. If your GP suspects your child is transgender, they might wait 14-18 months.

Trans teens are at risk

Children with cancer will have priority investigations so that treatment can start as soon as possible. In any case, this needs to be within a month of when a decision to treat is made.

On the other hand, transgender teens undergo months of assessment. Then they will put on to another waiting list to start treatment.

If they are approaching the age of 17 or 18 they are transferred to adult services, where once again they will be sent to the back of the queue.

This is a group of children who are at serious risk. As a gender specialist, I have seen more cuts and bruises and bodily self-harm than I can bear to think about, let alone the countless tales I have heard about suicide among younger gender-questioning people. This is not a made up fantasy, this is real.

It is a tragic fact of life that our children will have to face life-changing treatments, decisions, and heartache. The root cause is not avoidable, but we can avoid the pain caused by the lack of knowledge, compassion and timely treatment. If we do not we are failing these vulnerable young people.

What are your rights?

Your fundamental rights and those of your child are clear:

  • Your child has the right to see a doctor who has knowledge of their condition
  • They have the right to see a specialist within 18 weeks
  • Your child has the right to a compassionate, kind, caring treatment
  • The optimum time to start puberty blockers in a transgender child is at the start of puberty
  • Appropriate treatment with puberty blockers negates the need for top surgery and facial feminization surgery in the future
  • Pubertal development in line with their peers has better outcomes for children than a medically enforced delayed puberty
  • Your child has the right to consent to treatment at an age of less than 16
  • You have the right to demand these rights for your child

For more information, visit the GenderGPGeneral Medical Council, the Transhealth and the NHS websites.

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