Young people talked about many different ways of supporting their mental health. In this summary you can find out about the approaches young people have taken to support their mental health in the following ways:
- Transforming body and mind
- Support from friends and family
- Community led services and activism
You can also find information on young people talking about their mental health here. Experiences of counselling and Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) formed a significant part of the discussion.
Young people spoke about their feelings about medication, and being prescribed or offered medication to support their mental health. This was described by some as a positive step often if this was alongside other forms of support, whilst others had mixed experiences of medication. Bailey said the most helpful thing for supporting his mental health was, ‘physical intervention. So like medication and things like that. I dont feel like talking to anybody does anything.’
Some young people were not sure that medication was suitable for them, while others tried different types of medication. Bee said, ‘I am taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication and have been for a couple of years’. Rosa said, ‘I’ve been prescribed beta blockers for anxiety and some type of antidepressant’. She said, ‘beta blockers do help quite a bit with managing my anxiety with the physical symptoms of it and the antidepressants so far seem to be doing that’. Sophie said she has been ‘taking antidepressants for not only , tackling aspects of gender dysphoria but also [for] my general loneliness and depression.’
Jay shares their story about taking antidepressants combined with group therapy.
Ezio talks about his GP confusing gender identity feelings with depression and being prescribed anti-depressants.
Some young people highlighted negative side effects of prescribed medication for mental health. This included sweats. Sally said, ‘I’d been on anti-depressants for a long time, and sort of half-way through the previous year I decided I’m going to come off them cos I don’t like being sweaty. I don’t want these SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) sweats all the time, and, yeah, I found it very difficult.’
Transforming body and mind
Young people talked about their relationship with their bodies and how this related to their mental health (see Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse and Experiences of puberty and puberty blockers). One of the primary forms of support was seeing their bodies change through intervention such as hormone therapy and/or surgery.
Charke talked about their mental health after being on puberty blockers for a period of time. They said, ‘I think gender still does have an effect to an extent on my mental health, but I think I’m much more okay with that now.’ They continued, ‘I feel comfortable in just exploring gender, I don’t feel upset or depressed or anxious, I don’t feel like ‘oh my body’s not how I want it to be’ I think I can deal with that and cope with that much better.’ M felt that, ‘having my top surgery has definitely helped and being on hormones’.
N says I think that the thing that has shifted that depression most significantly is having surgery and having hormones.
Young people also talked about the positive impact that sport and exercise had on their mental health. Begam said, ‘I think exercise has helped me’. Eel said, ‘I started climbing in September or bouldering and that just meant I got some physical exercise. It meant that I got to go out a bit more and it’s very enjoyable having that kind of space to just climb and not think about anything.’
June talked about a changing relationship to his body at university. He described going to the gym for the first time and ‘really enjoying having a new relationship to my body where it wasn’t sort of like ignoring it’. He could ‘see it changing as I’m sort of working out and I’m really enjoying connecting with it for the first time’.
Ezio says I’ve been trying to eat a bit more healthily and leave the house a bit more often’ and be accepting of daily emotions.
Begam talks about the benefit of exercise to their mental health and attending a boxing academy.
June talks about transforming his body through going to the gym and the benefit this had to his mental health.
Some transmasculine young people spoke about treatments for body hair having an effect on their mental health. PJ said, ‘I think using Minoxidil (treatment for hair loss) as just something to get what I want has been really good for my mental health.’
Other young people we spoke to found being creative or practicing mindfulness had a positive effect on their mental health. Tyra said that mindfulness was a useful support with their mental health. She said, ‘I tried to find myself spiritually [and] I’m still [following] that spiritual growth path.’ Cas said, ‘I have an Instagram account where I make comics that make me feel better. So drawing in general, takes my mind off it and its something I enjoy doing. Writing it down about why I am feeling terrible or doing a drawing is quite good.’ Jacob found writing and performing songs to do with their mental health helped and watching YouTube videos also provided a distraction and helped with anxiety.
Tyra talks about her journey with mindfulness and how it has supported her mental health.
H talks about the lack of mental health support while waiting to be seen by the gender identity services.
Support from friends and family
A primary support for participants came from supportive friends and family members. Charke said, ‘my family really has been good especially my mum and my dad’. They said, ‘I really appreciate them being there through everything and helping me out so much.’
Friends were also an essential resource for many of our young people. Jacob said, ‘having friends around always helps,I kind of cut myself off [but] Ive kind of been able to talk more recently.’ He added that, ‘having the internet, being able to go onto Facebook and gripe when I was 15 years old was quite useful. Just complain about the world and how my parents dont understand me.
Finn values having friends that look out for each other and checks up on each other.
Rosa said support for her mental health comes ‘almost entirely just talking to my friends’. Noelle shared, ‘I’ve had to rely a lot on friends. I don’t know what I would have done without them.’ PJ said, ‘Surrounding yourself with a support network who know your identity, or don’t know your identity, and just know you as you are, is really helpful.’ He added, ‘it feels so validating to have people call you by your preferred name and pronouns, without a second thought really. Kat said, ‘I’ve just kind of been working through some stuff with my friends because we all have, a dedicated support area where people, get help with [their] problems.’ She added, ‘we all just kind of help each other out with stuff and it’s good.’
Some young people talked about combining forms of mental health support that proved helpful and effective. Cas said they ‘haven’t had much luck’ with the NHS mental health system, describing it as ‘not the best’. He said, ‘being able to get on the meds that I need and having [a] support network being around me and affirming me and being able to point out when my brain is being irrational as well is always quite helpful.’
Community led services and activism
The young people we interviewed were also keen to highlight the support for mental health that can be found in the trans community from local support centres and youth groups as well as through engaging with political activism. Jaz said, ‘a lot of the support that I’ve got is from friends or the [trans] community’. Kat talked about her political activism has helped support her mental health. She said ‘I went quite left politically, I think that was definitely helped because kind of gives me something to discuss with people’.
Anderson talks about the activism and youth work they have done throughout their life.
Cassie talks about her support being 90% social’ through the trans community.
Most of the support young people gained in these ways were positive. Patrick talked about how he loved ‘being able to do trans youth work’. He said, ‘it’s just so rewarding’. Cassie said, ‘There’s stuff at the [local] LGBT centre which is run by trans people with other trans people [on] a volunteer, quite small basis and they’re usually once a month.’ She added that ‘mutual aid’ was also important within the trans community for supporting each other. Jack says, ‘I do feel recharged being around other trans people like there’s definitely, you know, a reminder that I’m not alone that I have solidarity with other Trans people,. and that we will be able to overcome the stuff.’
Charke says the LGBT groups which I attend [are] really greatI can have a friendly conversation with someone who knows what I’m talking about.
Patrick talks about the support they found from the trans community and youth groups.
Jaz would like trans people to not have to jump through hoops in order to acquire the things that we need’ and healthcare built around trans people’s knowledge.