A study by The Journal of School Health has found transgender students to be 2.5 times more likely to try and use drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine than their non-transgender peers. Transgender students were also found to be twice as likely to misuse prescription medication than other students their age.
This misuse of drugs by transgender individuals is thought not to be anything to do with their non-gender conformity but with the discrimination that they, as transgender individuals, face on a daily basis, with stigma being one of the primary drivers of transgender mental health issues across the world.
In the US more than 50% of transgender individuals report suffering from depression or anxiety and LGBTQ individuals are also 7 times more likely to consider death by suicide than heterosexual gender-conforming individuals.
At home, 19% of transgender individuals have experienced domestic violence as a result of their gender nonconformity and at work, more than 50% of transgender individuals have experienced discrimination.
With so much stigma at home, on the street and in the workplace it’s no wonder that some transgender individuals are turning to narcotics as a way to numb the pain and escape their realities.
Dr. Pedro, a scientist who helped conduct the drug use study has said “When it comes to transgender teens, it’s the transphobia that impacts [their use of drugs], not being transgender. In order to reduce the likelihood of a kid to resort to drugs as a means to cope, there has to be some sort of social support mechanism,”
Evidence from initiatives in the US supports the idea that better support systems and less stigmatizing communities can have a positive impact on the mental health of transgender individuals. Simply providing transgender individuals with appropriate toilet facilities was found to reduce the likelihood of transgender teens committing suicide by a staggering 45% and the introduction of same-sex marriage saw a huge drop in suicide attempts by 134,000.
So what else can be done to help support transgender individuals and reduce their need to rely on narcotics?
The evidence provided by initiatives in the US proves that removing the stigma surrounding being transgender is key to reducing suicide rates and improving transgender mental health but this won’t happen overnight. We need to see an introduction of more support systems for transgender people in the form of support groups and access to counseling and we need to provide transgender people with access to inpatient drug rehab centers if they have already fallen too far.
To remove stigma in the community, schools and governors need to focus on transgender awareness and education, helping friends, families, and co-workers to understand what it means to be transgender and how they can help to ease the weight that their loved one, friend or colleague is carrying. Education also needs to start far earlier and be taught in schools to help students grow up into compassionate individuals with a wider understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges it faces.