Support for parents of transgender children to start at headspace Bendigo

A Bendigo mental health service offering support to transgender children is now reaching out to those young people’s parents, a group also susceptible to feelings of isolation.  

Headspace Bendigo this week announced its plans for the support group, giving mothers and fathers the chance to learn more about their children’s gender identity. 

Millee Rice, the mental health clinician for headspace’s same-sex attracted and gender diverse clients, said many parents lacked the opportunity to meet others in the same situation.  

“I think it’ll just make people aware that they're not alone, and that they've got other people they can lean on through their journey, and their child’s journey,” she said.

Families often wanted to know more about transgenderism, but could be overwhelmed by the amount of information online, Ms Rice said.

The group would be a useful way for parents to share knowledge on legal, social and health-related topics affecting their child, she said, including how to acquire hormones and legally change names.   

A welcoming family has been shown to significantly improve the mental health of young transgender people. 

A La Trobe University study from 2014 found those with parental support were half as likely to report suicidal thoughts and were twice as likely to see a health professional if they were contemplating self-harm. 

One-third of the study’s 130 participants had attempted suicide. 

Young people who did not feel supported by their parents or carers were also twice as likely to experience depression. 

While Ms Rice expected those most likely to join the group would be parents already comfortable with their children’s gender, she promised a safe environment for parents having a tougher time coming to grips with their children’s identity.  

”By coming along and learning more about gender diversity, learning it’s not a mental illness or something that's really terrible, it’ll increase their own acceptance of their child.”

Cobaw Community Health in the Macedon Ranges began a similar program for parents of its gender-diverse clients in 2016, an initiative acting chief executive officer Colin Hatcher said was especially important for those living outside capital cities. 

“We were acutely aware that, being in regional Victoria, accessing support can be difficult, especially services that apply to gender diverse people,” Mr Hatcher said.

“There's a dire need to raise awareness of the mental health consequences when this isn’t dealt with effectively.” 

Seven families currently access Cobaw’s monthly meetings. For many, it is their first time meeting a transgender person other than their child.  

For more information, phone headspace Bendigo on 5434 5345.