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Gender Diversity For Mental Health Professionals

Mental health statistics specific to gender diverse populations are not as well researched or understood as for the broader LGBTIQ+ community. Given a certain amount of common experiences and crossover between the communities, it can reasonably be understood that there are high rates of mental health issues, self-harm and suicidality prevalent in the gender diverse community. With such high need for mental health services, it is important to recognise the  barriers faced by the gender diverse community to accessing support services.

Clients who identify as gender diverse or non-binary might have quite different experiences to binary trans people – textbook, clinical understandings of what it means to be trans are not necessarily applicable to gender diverse people. As with many trans people, the experience of dysphoria may or may no be present. It is important not to assume gender dysphoria as a given for people exploring new ideas and understandings of gender.

Compared to the broader experiences of the LGBTIQ+ community, gender diverse individuals are more likely to be negatively affected by discrimination and hostility or simply a harmful lack of acknowledgement. This can exist in all spaces that gender diverse people occupy such as the workplace, school or home. It  is very important to establish a positive space where a gender diverse person can express themselves freely and experience a sense of visibility.

A refusal to acknowledge or respect the identity of gender diverse person leads to  frustration that other issues are not being taken seriously. It is also important to ensure that any kind of intake process is mindful of a person’s identity. If there is a need to collect data on someone’s legal identity, it is important to ensure there is room for a preferred name and pronouns to be recorded and even more importantly that these are always used to address the gender diverse individual. It is always good practice to start things off by asking how someone sees themself or how they would like to be addressed. It is also useful for professionals to introduce themselves by telling the client their name and their pronoun, even if this appears obvious. This gives opens up space for clients to state their own.

It is also important to acknowledge financial barriers as the gender diverse community experiences higher rates of poverty than the broader population. This can be due to difficulties finding employment, experiencing discrimination at work, as well as the expense of a transition that they might be undergoing. Being mindful of the financial barriers gender diverse people face, is one way professional services can make practices more accessible. Being upfront about fees and options can take the strain out of approaching the mental health service for the first time. It is also important to refer onto free services, such as crisis hotlines, or social support programs such as those offered at AGA.

Word of mouth is a very powerful way the gender diverse community communicates.  Creating a gender diverse friendly and respectful practice will enable positive word of mouth and strong engagement from the gender diverse community.

Key Points

  • Understanding the gender diverse experience in the context of the broader LGBTIQ+ community leads to a reasonable conclusion that there are many challenges that face gender diverse people.
  • Ensuring practices are mindful of the needs of gender diverse people can help reduce the barriers that stop gender diverse people from reaching out to mental health services.
  • It is very important that the name, pronouns, and language choices of a gender diverse client are respected to ensure a safe space that emphasises expression on their own terms.
  • In understanding the nature of systemic discrimination, it is important to  acknowledge geographical and financial barriers to accessing mental health services, and try to provide information about how to access low-cost, appropriate and accessible services.