Transgender students at risk: study

AMY MAAS
Last updated 10:57 22/01/2014

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Transgender students have poor access to health care and are at higher risk of suicide and depression, a pioneering study has found.

University of Auckland researchers surveyed more than 8000 New Zealand high school students and found at least 96 - 4 per cent - identified as being transgender.

Dr Terryan Clark, principal investigator at The Adolescent Health Research Group, said the study was a world first because no-one had questioned transgender students on a national level.

"I guess one of the things that is also very unique about it is that we developed the question with young people who are transgender-identifying because we wanted to make sure that the wording was right and that it was appropriate," she said.

Clark said the results were a surprise because most people thought questioning gender or identifying as transgender was rare.

"Now we know from this study that there actually are probably a lot of young people out there who are questioning, thinking about their gender but just never necessarily talk to anybody about it, or maybe it's a transitional thing during adolescence," she said.

The study found that transgender-identifying students found it difficult to access health care because New Zealand had a health system where people had to stipulate gender, which young people could find confusing.

"As health professionals we aren't taught how to address young people or ask questions or be sensitive to the issues of young people who are questioning their gender," Clark said.

While the study also found that at least three-quarters of transgender students said they found school OK and at least one parent cared about them, they were also vulnerable to mistreatment.

Nearly one in five transgender students reported bullying on a weekly or more-frequent basis and the same number of students had attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

The study suggested health professionals, schools and the wider community needed to consider that some of their members were transgender, and they should provide appropriate services and create safe environments in which adolescents could openly express gender diversity.

"If we know there are more young people out there who are questioning their gender, we need to make sure our schools are safe, our services are safe and we need to make sure that they are included in society and not marginalised," Clark said.

The study suggested school locker rooms, bathrooms, sports teams, formal written records and dress codes required special attention when ensuring a positive environment was created for transgender students.

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HOW TO GET HELP
Rainbow Youth ( www.rainbowyouth.org.nz) runs a fortnightly social group for young people questioning their gender.
Gender Bridge (www.genderbridge.org)
Health West (www.healthwest.co.nz)
Outline - 0800 outline or www.outline.org.nz
Curious (curious.org.nz)

- © Fairfax NZ News

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