As a Transgender Woman, I Need My Mental Health Support Team to Look Beyond My Gender
I really needed to write about my experience earlier today and my thoughts on navigating the mental health system as a transgender woman.
I just met with my case manager and psychiatrist. They are both very nice people with the best intentions. I left the meeting feeling discouraged and down, though. It has taken the rest of the afternoon for me to sort out what was bothering me about it and put it into a somewhat comprehensible post. I wish I could have come up with the words during the meeting. I did not want it to come across as anger though and I think I often do come across that way when my emotions get the better of me. I guess I can thank borderline personality disorder (BPD) and anxiety for that.
In this meeting, I told both of them I thought I needed more support in the form of mental health groups or a community peer support worker, which I was told I would have access to even before I left hospital. They told me there were no transgender support workers available. Now I wish I would have told them that while maybe that would have been ideal, any support would be better than what I have now. As for groups, again their focus was on groups for the LGBT community. The honest truth is that I have that covered myself, and probably know more about that than they do. My need from them is mental health support.
I have seen the statistics that I am sure many are familiar with about the increased risk for suicide among transgender individuals. What I do not see in those statistics are the contributing factors for suicide. Sure, I tried to kill myself and I happen to be a transgender woman, but in my experience, one was not directly related to the other. I remember seeing a statistic somewhere about females struggling with depression more than males. My point is, I do not think a doctor would assume someone is depressed solely because they are female. Gender would not be the main focus of the caregivers.
To me, it seems like the health care providers in my hospital system cannot get past the label of “transgender woman.” They assume all of my problems are because of that. If they would look deeper, they would see that I do not let that label stop me from socializing, working or living my life. In fact, it has not been an issue in my day-to-day life except when I interact with the health system. They seem to make it a bigger deal than it is. I do not want my identity to rest solely on the diagnosis I have been given or on the fact that I am a transgender woman. I am me.
I have given a lot of thought to how my mental illness and gender may be related. I am no doctor, but all I can see is that maybe hiding my true identity for so long contributed to my lack of self-identity. I stress the word “contribute” and acknowledge it is by far not the only contributing factor.
My feeling is that the health system needs more education. Transgender people are just people, like anyone else. If gender is a problem for someone, please help them. If a transgender person attempts or dies by suicide, please do not assume the only reason possible is gender. I feel that focusing so intently on my gender is a subtle form of discrimination. Treat me like you would treat anyone else. If I say gender is not an issue for me, focus on what the real issues are. If a transgender person is not available as a peer support worker, give me a choice of someone else.
Does anyone else have experiences with doctors not recognizing the real problems or only fixating on one issue? I would love to hear your comments.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via vadimguzhva.