Suicide risk in the UK trans population and the role of gender transition in decreasing suicidal ideation and suicide attempt

Louis Bailey (Research Fellow, based at Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Hull, UK)
Sonja J. Ellis (Principal Lecturer in Psychology, based at Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)
Jay McNeil (Trainee Clinical Psychologist, based at Department of Health and Medicine, University of Lancaster, Lancaster, UK)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Publication date: 2 December 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present findings from the Trans Mental Health Study (McNeil et al., 2012) – the largest survey of the UK trans population to date and the first to explore trans mental health and well-being within a UK context. Findings around suicidal ideation and suicide attempt are presented and the impact of gender dysphoria, minority stress and medical delay, in particular, are highlighted.

Design/methodology/approach

This represents a narrative analysis of qualitative sections of a survey that utilised both open and closed questions. The study drew on a non-random sample (n=889), obtained via a range of UK-based support organisations and services.

Findings

The study revealed high rates of suicidal ideation (84 per cent lifetime prevalence) and attempted suicide (48 per cent lifetime prevalence) within this sample. A supportive environment for social transition and timely access to gender reassignment, for those who required it, emerged as key protective factors. Subsequently, gender dysphoria, confusion/denial about gender, fears around transitioning, gender reassignment treatment delays and refusals, and social stigma increased suicide risk within this sample.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the limitations of undertaking research with this population, the research is not demographically representative.

Practical implications

The study found that trans people are most at risk prior to social and/or medical transition and that, in many cases, trans people who require access to hormones and surgery can be left unsupported for dangerously long periods of time. The paper highlights the devastating impact that delaying or denying gender reassignment treatment can have and urges commissioners and practitioners to prioritise timely intervention and support.

Originality/value

The first exploration of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt within the UK trans population revealing key findings pertaining to social and medical transition, crucial for policy makers, commissioners and practitioners working across gender identity services, mental health services and suicide prevention.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Trans Resource and Empowerment Centre (TREC).

Citation

Bailey, L., J. Ellis, S. and McNeil, J. (2014), "Suicide risk in the UK trans population and the role of gender transition in decreasing suicidal ideation and suicide attempt", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 209-220. https://doi.org/10.1108/MHRJ-05-2014-0015

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Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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