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Embracing resilience: navigating mental health challenges in the transgender journey

Kamilla Kamaruddin is a GP in Transgender Health Care and Clinical Lead for the East of England Gender Service, Cambridge.

I remember the early days when I wanted to transition. Before I could be referred to a gender clinic, I was required to see a psychiatrist to be assessed that I did not have a mental illness. I refused to see a psychiatrist because I was very sure that I did not have a mental illness, and wanting to be a woman is not a mere delusion. I did not have a mental illness, but my mental health suffered because there was little support.

Navigating the intersection of mental health while being transgender is a deeply intimate journey, filled with challenges that test the very core of one’s being. In my own journey, I’ve gone through days of unhealthy coping mechanisms, emerging on the other side with a newfound strength and understanding. As a transgender individual, the interplay between self-identity and mental wellbeing has become a profound focal point in my life. Within the transgender community, the weight of societal pressures, hate, discrimination, the tumultuous process of social transition, and the relentless struggle for acceptance casts a daunting shadow over one’s mental health.

Acceptance, a multifaceted framework encompassing both self-acceptance and societal recognition, stands as the cornerstone of my personal journey. Coming to terms with my gender identity, facing internal conflicts, and embracing my true self have not been an easy journey. The external world often fails to grasp the depth of this struggle. I’ve been told by many that my journey is not just profound but also remarkably courageous, but it doesn’t feel like it.

“Navigating the intersection of mental health while being transgender is a deeply intimate journey.”

The path to societal acceptance is met with many obstacles. Discrimination, rooted in ignorance, lack of awareness, and fear have frequently led me down the path of isolation and depression. Yet, in the face of these adversities, I’ve found pockets of strength to confront these challenges headlong, drawing support from family members, chosen families, friends, colleagues, mental health professionals, and gender specialists. Their unwavering support has been my bedrock, reminding me of the power of human compassion and solidarity.

Mental health support is vital for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for transgender individuals. Therapy can offer a safe space to explore feelings, combat anxiety, and cope with the challenges of being transgender in a world that doesn’t always understand. The challenges of being transgender in a world that often feels alien can be overwhelming. Additionally, connecting with support groups and communities where experiences are shared can provide a sense of belonging and understanding that is invaluable. Transgender people need to feel what’s it like not to be a minority.

Each narrative, each revelation, chips away at the walls of misunderstanding, paving the way for a broader societal acceptance of the transgender experience. It is essential to recognise the progress society has made in understanding transgender experiences, but there is still work to be done. Hate crimes against trans people in the UK have risen by nearly 200% in the last 5 years,1 and our government laughs at transgender people. Conversion therapy, which is so detrimental to the mental health of trans people, is still not banned.

Advocacy and education are key. Sharing personal stories helps dismantle stereotypes, and fosters empathy and understanding. By encouraging dialogue, we can help to create a more inclusive society where mental health challenges faced by transgender individuals are met with compassion, respect, and appropriate support. Encouraging acceptance, not merely tolerance, is our collective responsibility. Remember, your journey is valid, and your resilience can inspire others, making the path a little easier for those who come after you.

Reference
1. Stonewall. New data: rise in hate crime against LGBTQ+ people continues, Stonewall slams UK Gov ‘inaction’. 2023. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/new-data-rise-hate-crime-against-lgbtq-people-continues-stonewall-slams-uk-gov- (accessed 9 Nov 2023).

Featured photo by Jiroe (Matia Rengel) on Unsplash.

The BJGP is the world-leading primary care journal. At BJGP Life we add multi-media comment and opinion for the primary care community.

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