September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to reflect and reach out to those people who might be at risk or suffering in silence. Members of the transgender community are particularly vulnerable and awareness days such as this shine a much-needed spotlight on an issue which is rarely acknowledged, let alone discussed.
It is believed that around one third of transgender adults and half of young transgender people attempt suicide.
Time and again the patients I treat tell me of the despair they have felt along their journey and of how close they have come to ending it all. When I discuss the reasons why they have found themselves at such a low point, the answer is always the same: they are misunderstood and ostracised by a society that lacks compassion and acceptance.
Think about that for just one second. This group actually considers suicide, not because they are unhappy with their gender variance, but because of society's reaction to their situation.
If you have ever come in to contact with a transgender person what was your response? Did you cast a sly look, give a furtive giggle, perhaps you felt it necessary to make your feelings known with a little comment under your breath, or worse. Now imagine how it must feel to suffer that kind of abuse every time you leave your house.
If you are gender variant, it can take a huge amount of courage to take the necessary steps to express your gender in a way that makes you feel right, whether through the use of make-up and clothes or medical intervention. For that courage to be met with resistance, or even derision only makes this vulnerable group even more susceptible to self-harm and suicide.
For trans children reaching puberty, whose bodies begin to morph into something which is alien to them, the risk of suicide is particularly high. We all need to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open so that they do not feel alone.
Next time you come in to contact with someone who you feel may be gender incongruent, why not take a different approach. Consider the steps they have taken to get to this point. Think about how hard it must be to face your loved ones and reveal that you are not who they think you are in the knowledge that not everyone will easily accept this version of you.
We need education, acceptance and clear pathways of help to allow gender variant people to be accepted and assisted in their transition.
So this World Suicide Prevention Day I implore you to put a little love in your hearts. Yes, gender variance is confusing and you may find it a little scary, but your discomfort at seeing someone presenting in the opposite gender to that dictated by society is nothing, compared to how it feels for them to walk down the street and be judged with every step they take.
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