HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 9.50 pm ]: I rise tonight to talk about some important research that has come out recently from the Telethon Kids Institute on which I was fortunate to receive a briefing and to go to the launch of last week. Some members may have had the opportunity during the dinner break to see the institute’s display on health and medical research upstairs. The research I am talking about was also briefly on display tonight. It is good to see that people are given the opportunity to be made aware of it. The research I specifically want to talk about is the “Trans Pathways” study that looked at the mental health experiences and care of trans young people. I will say that some of the initial data on mental health and suicide for this population group makes for some very distressing reading, but there are, fortunately, also a range of suggestions on how to improve these pathways. The research looked at people who identify as trans — that means they identify as a gender that does not match the sex that was assigned to them at birth. The definitions of trans are very broad and that is why the term “trans” is used as an umbrella term. It includes specific gender identities such as trans woman, trans man, genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid and also people who identify as male or female in the context in which that is different from the biological sex that they were originally assigned at birth. Trans is an inclusive term meant to identify a range of identities across the gender spectrum.
The idea of the study was to try to give a snapshot of the status of people’s mental health and issues around suicide. Frankly, the data that came out of this study was horrifying, and I think it should be horrifying for anyone. I found it particularly horrifying also as a mental health and suicide prevention advocate. The sorts of figures we are talking about are almost 75 per cent of young people are diagnosed with depression, 25 per cent are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, 20 per cent are diagnosed with a personality disorder, and 16 per cent are diagnosed with psychosis. We are talking about high levels of distress in this particular population. They also have higher than average levels of eating disorders, autism spectrum disorders and gender dysphoria. But the figures that really shocked me the most, and the ones I found the most urgent and most distressing, were the figures for self-harm and suicide, with 91 per cent of young trans people indicating that they wanted to self-harm, almost 80 per cent self-harming and over 48 per cent attempting suicide. I am talking about a seriously at-risk section of our community and I think that there is so much more we could and need to be doing.
The research goes into quite a lot of detail about the sorts of protective factors we can look at for young people. A lot of them are the normal social determinants that we would expect for good health, particularly stable housing and employment. The sorts of stories coming back from trans young people are that many of them are being made homeless, so they are losing one of the key social determinants to maintaining positive health and they are also experiencing recurring difficulties gaining employment. They talk about the sigma and the discrimination they face when trying to gain employment. The ordinary social determinants that would help people maintain a level of wellness are effectively compromised.
They also talk about the importance of needing supportive peers and how important it is to ensure that there are appropriate peer organisations and peer opportunities, and the protective factor that that can play in people’s wellbeing and also the role of family. There are some really important stories about the different ways that parents can approach this. In effect, parents can choose to completely reject their own children and drive them to the thought of suicide or they can end up being their greatest advocates and greatest supports. There is so much to be learnt there. Overall, it is about acceptance. It is about a person being able to walk in the world as they are and to feel a sense that they still belong and are accepted. We have so much to do in this area to change public attitudes and to raise awareness around this. It starts to emphasise, particularly for this vulnerable cohort of young people, how important programs like Safe Schools can be in changing attitudes at schools and providing protective factors. We are talking about programs that can effectively help to save lives. I do not think we should ever underestimate the importance of that. I have spoken about it before and I will continue to speak about it. It is about making sure we are maintaining appropriate levels of funding for really important care-based counselling services such as Living Proud. It provides specialised peer support and is able to provide a level of expertise and community that is critical in keeping this vulnerable cohort of people alive.
One of the things that came out in the research was the importance of making sure that our GPs and other health clinicians are well trained and supported to provide support to young trans people. People talk about the difference between a good GP and a bad GP and how that can make a difference to someone’s entire wellbeing. That is a really critical point. It does not come up in the research, but I will mention it anyway: I am also aware t hat the gender clinic at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children is overwhelmed. It cannot keep up with demand. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for that in the budget. The staff there, particularly the psychiatrists, are working stupidly long hours, way beyond the hours that they are employed to work, simply because they are so concerned to make sure that the children and young people who are in their care will be okay. It is a really important and emerging area. It requires a greater level of understanding. We need to be very mindful of just how vulnerable this community is.
On that final note, I will again make reference to the current debate occurring around marriage equality nationally. Some of the advertisements for the no campaign are trying to equate campaigns around concerns over Safe Schools — concerns that I do not share — with the whole issue of marriage equality. I want to point out how much damage that does to young trans people who are seeing these sorts of advertisements. It is absolutely going in the wrong direction. We need to look out for the wellbeing of young trans people. I would encourage members to take a look at this. It is an area that a lot of people do not necessarily know much about. It is good for all of us to try to skill ourselves up in these sorts of areas and to recognise the huge diversity of people who make up the Western Australia n and the Australian community. I think we can do much more in this area. This research bears that out. Most importantly, we have to because we are literally talking about young lives.