Transgender youths who self-harm: perspectives from those seeking support

Joe Pardoe, Gemma Trainor

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Research suggests that a far greater proportion of transgendered individuals engage in self-harm compared to those who are cisgendered – those whose self-identity corresponds with their biological sex (Conolly et al, 2016; Jackman et al, 2016). Furthermore, statistically speaking, transgender youths represent one of the most vulnerable groups within our society as regards prevalence of self-harm and non-suicidal self-injurious behaviour, with reported rates among this population escalating annually (Reisner et al, 2015). Liu & Mustanski (2012) found that 13-45% of transgender individuals between the ages of 16 and 20 engage in self-harm. Despite these alarming statistics, research has found a deficit in suitable therapeutic intervention for this cohort, largely due to clinical guidelines being supported by very limited research evidence (de Vries et al, 2016). Similarly, a literature review for this paper revealed remarkably modest attention from academic, qualitative research on this topic, with the majority of studies aggregating rates of self-injurious behaviour but providing little explorative data into the phenomenon, with scant focus on individual experiences (Lytle et al, 2016). Young people who identify as transgender can find articulating their emotional distress overwhelming, frequently preferring to ask for help online rather than approaching mental health services (McDermott, 2015). McDermott & Roen (2012) investigated the social context of online forums for transgender youths seeking support for self-harm. They concluded that a paucity in understanding of the emotional life of these young people was largely responsible for the inadequacy of current social care interventions for this population. In order to garner a variety of insightful perspectives on the topic of self-harm among transgender youth, this study applied thematic analysis to a corpus of data that was gathered from online support forums. The rationale behind applying this research method was that perspectives would have been offered in an environment in which subjects felt comfortable to speak openly, without restriction or moderation. Online forum members adopted a variety of gender terms to self-identify. For the purposes of this study, the prefix term ‘trans’ will be used to describe the individuals who are the subject of this study; an umbrella term that includes (but is not limited to) those who identify as: transvestite, transsexual, polygender, genderqueer, trans male, trans female, cross-dressing, gender variant, dual-gendered, and non-gender conforming or non-binary (Erickson-Schroth, 2014). The foremost ambition of this study is to bring the increasing prevalence of self-harm in transgender youths to the attention of professionals, with urgency, and to encourage further qualitative exploration into the phenomenon so that appropriate therapeutic interventions and modes of support may be developed in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationMental Health Today
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2017


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