Counselor explains relationship of mental illness in transgender community

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(Editor’s note: This story is the third part of a multi-part series “Identity Crisis,” examining the transition from one gender to another that begins in Issue #1 and will continue through Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)

by: MATT MOLINAR/News Editor

Transgender individuals go through life with many hardships.

Almost half of the community will experience suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. Many organizations have begun to take action in order to help transgender individuals feel content with who they are.

When an individual wishes to transition, there is a long process he or she must go though. For instance, in order to receive hormone replacement therapy, the individual must go through the proper amount of therapy in order to ensure he or she is aware of what is to come. Nicole Poulsen, a counselor based in Lubbock who specializes in crisis and trauma, has had the chance to counsel a few transgender individuals.

“When a client wants to transition, and they want their insurance to cover it, often times, the insurance requires that a client must go through 12 consecutive months of counseling where they talk about the process of transitioning, the hormone replacement therapy, and things like that,” Poulsen told the Plainsman Press in a recent interview. “They do this so that the client knows what they are getting themselves into.”

Transgender individuals not only go through the process of transitioning, which can be a very tedious phase, but a large number of these individuals will develop different emotional disorders and stress disorders. These issues are what Poulsen says have brought them into counseling.

“I’ve had clients here, who, a lot of times, are dealing with things like anxiety problems,” Poulsen said. “They’re worried a lot. They experience bullying at school, and they may be dealing with depression. The suicide attempt rate is very high among transgender people.”

Poulsen’s clients have not necessarily gone into counseling solely because they wish to transition. They will usually request counseling in order to help deal with suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety, as well as other emotional disorders that come with the process of transitioning, that many of the individuals will experience.

“They just have a lot of mental health issues, because it is so hard to be transgender in this day and age, especially in West Texas,” Poulsen said. “The suicide rate is astronomical for transgender people versus the general public.”

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Counselor Nicole Poulsen offers support to transgenderclients. MALLORY CARVER/PLAINSMAN PRESS

The process of transitioning, especially in the south, can be very difficult. For transgender individuals living in the conservative south, treatment for mental health, as well as surgeries, is very scarce. Some individuals will travel more than 100 miles just to get the proper care they need, according to Poulsen.

“I had a client who was transgender from Amarillo who had called me, and they wanted to get into counseling,” Poulsen explains. “They were willing to drive from Amarillo, because they couldn’t find anybody. I think it’s important for counselors to be aware that if you’re an ally, then you need to make yourself known to the public. There are a lot of people that are not accessing services because they just can’t find anyone. But there’s other limitations as well.”

For the youth who are in transition, the struggles can be very difficult for them. Transgender teens will more than likely face discrimination through bullying in their schools. For some of these teens, the teachers can be the bullies. Discrimination against transgender individuals can also be seen from medical professionals as well as police officers, according to Poulsen.

“I had a teenager that is enrolled at a local rural school, “Poulsen said. “They identified as being gender-fluid. In West Texas, people just aren’t as accepting. The client reported that even the teacher was making snide remarks. A lot of transgender people have reported being discriminated and harassed by medical professionals and by the police, and that’s just not acceptable.”

For children who are not comfortable with their gender or even their gender roles, things can become scary for them. Suicidal thoughts can become a reality in children younger than 12 years old, according to an article written collectively by Carl L. Tishler, PhD, Natalie Staats Reiss, PhD, and Angel R. Rhodes, PhD about suicidal behavior found in children.

“I am seeing a rise in transgender people identifying and seeking treatment,” said Poulsen. “A couple of months ago, I had a 9-year-old that came in. At 9, you don’t even identify sexually. They were dressed like a girl and looked every bit like a girl and was asking mom how to get hormone therapy. This poor nine-year-old was being bullied, even by the school district, and being discouraged by the school principal. When this young nine-year-old came in, it became very clear that this is not a choice. No 9-year-old wants to be put through that by choice. This is something that we all need to be very aware of.”

In West Texas, many of the discriminatory remarks will be backed up by religious beliefs, according to Poulsen, as the south has proven to be a heavily religious area. Much of the backlash that these individuals receive is based on religion, especially in the south.

“Some people will make religious-based remarks to them,” said Poulsen, “A lot of times, people are really heavily rooted into their religion. They find it hard to separate their religion from just being nice to other people.”

Some transgender individuals will become homeless. Parents, out of rage, will decide to just reject their children instead of showing love to their children, according to Poulsen. This can cause the individual to become suicidal. The suicide rate among transgender individuals is at an astonishing 40 percent, while people who identify as the gender assigned at birth will have a much lower rate.

“A lot of the suicide cases come from the way their family either embraces or rejects them,” Poulsen explains. “They may not even have a problem with being transgender. It’s all these other things that come with it, such as the anxiety, depression, being ridiculed at school, the fear of being the subject of a hate crime. Drug use is even prevalent within the community.”

In Lubbock, more and more organizations and individuals have begun opening themselves to the transgender community. There are community churches, counselors, spas and even hair salons that are transgender-friendly. Poulsen says that with the right support and care, transgender individuals can feel more comfortable with who they wish to be. A resourse list of transgender-friendly facilities and organizations can be found at “pflaglubbock.org”.

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