About gender identity
The physical features you were born with (sex assigned at birth) don’t necessarily define your gender. Although gender has traditionally been divided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, it’s now widely recognised that gender is not that simple and that there are a diverse range of gender identities.
For example, you could identify with a gender that’s different from the sex you were assigned at birth, such as:
- being assigned female at birth, but you identify as a male
- being assigned male at birth, but identifying as a female
- you identify somewhere between male and female
- you recognise yourself as another gender identity.
Young people who are gender diverse or do not identify with the gender they were assigned live exciting and fulfilling lives. But, discrimination and transphobia – along with a lack of understanding or acceptance – can contribute to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide.
Why is this difficult for me?
Some common experiences that can affect your wellbeing and increase your vulnerability to developing mental health difficulties are:
- feeling ‘different’ from other people around you
- transphobic bullying about your gender identity, whether verbal or physical
- feeling pressure to define or deny your feelings regarding your gender identity
- feeling unsupported or worried that your gender identity will not be accepted by friends and family members, along with the possibility of being rejected or isolated
- feeling stressed and anxious in relation to the pressure to conform with your sex assigned at birth.
Feeling these pressures can be stressful, especially with all the other stresses in your life such as managing school or university, job hunting, forming relationships and making sense of who you are and your place in the world.
How do I know when I'm struggling with my mental health?
It’s hard to know if you’re experiencing early signs of a mental health problem. Things to look out for include:
- changes in mood – feeling sadder, more anxious or more irritable
- changes in behaviour – being less talkative, becoming withdrawn or being more aggressive
- changes in relationships – falling out with friends or your partner, or conflict with family
- changes in appetite – eating too much or too little, or losing or gaining weight without trying to
- changes in sleep patterns – not sleeping enough, or sleeping too much
- changes in coping – feeling overwhelmed or tired of life
- changes in thinking – more negative thoughts, or thoughts of self harm or suicide.
Transphobic discrimination is about being treated differently or excluded because of your gender identity. People’s prejudices towards gender can affect your sense of wellbeing. It can also make it hard to ask for help, or know where to turn for help, when problems come up.
Getting the right help and support
While it’s normal to occasionally experience some of these things, if you’re finding it hard to cope and your social, work or school life are being affected, then it’s time to ask for help.
Coming out and Inviting in
Coming Out, or as we like to frame it “Inviting In”, about your sexuality or gender identity is a different experience for everyone. For some it can be an easy and positive experience and for others it may not be.
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This might be because of discrimination by health professionals in the past, worries about privacy, or difficulty talking to strangers about gender identity.
It’s important to find someone you can trust to support you throughout your journey. This might be your general practitioner (GP) and/or other health professionals experienced in working with gender diverse young people.
We can also help connect you with specialists for specific needs around gender transition if you decide to go down that path.
A trusted friend, teacher or family member might also be able to recommend someone to talk to. It can take time to find the health professional who is right for you, so don’t give up if you don’t find the right person straight away. Remember that you don’t have to discuss your gender identity if you don’t feel comfortable or safe.
You can find tips for a healthy headspace if you're feeling stressed or having a hard time.
Remember that you’re not alone and there many young people exploring and questioning their gender identity. If you want to talk through any questions or concerns about your gender identity, there are people who can help and support you.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. Transgender Victoria also contributed to an earlier edition of this page.
1 October 2018