WHO urged ‘don’t forget trans people’ on World Mental Health Day

A protester wrapped in a trans Pride flag holds a 'Never Stop Fighting' placard during the trans rights demonstration

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been urged to focus “more on healthcare access” for the trans and LGBT+ communities on World Mental Health Day.

In a poignant open letter published by openDemocracy, Chrissy Stroop beseeched WHO to do more to champion access to vital healthcare needs for the LGBT+ community in the US.

Stroop began by saying she endorsed WHO’s “vision you’ve laid out in your 2013-30 Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan”.

The plan called for nations to proactively identify and assess the mental health needs of vulnerable groups who may not be using services. This includes people living with homelessness, older people, Indigenous populations, asylum seekers and the LGBT+ community.

She said she appreciated that WHO’s action plan for mental health “highlights the LGBTQ community” but said, “many of us continue to fall through the cracks” when it came to accessing healthcare in the US.

“But as a transgender woman in a country where access to mental health specialists is often a luxury, and prejudice against people like me is on the rise, I find it hard to be optimistic about the US’s prospects for progress – because of influential right-wing opposition to LGBTQ equality and a systemic crisis in the affordability and accessibility of healthcare,” she wrote.

Stroop explained that a “diagnosis of gender dysphoria can be life-saving for trans people – because it is needed to access gender-confirming surgeries”. She warned this diagnosis can be ‘gatekeeped’ by mental health professionals and said there are further concerns about whether insurance will cover gender-affirming care.

Stoop said it can be “difficult and demoralising” to even find a therapist to begin the assessment process for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

“I know this from personal experience,” Stoop wrote. “I have repeatedly been shut down or ghosted by care providers, both in my search for a regular, long-term therapist, and even when trying to book a single appointment for the evaluation necessary to get that coveted diagnosis of gender dysphoria – without which I cannot even schedule a consultation with a surgeon.”

She added that trans people have “higher rates of mental illness and suicide than the general population” because of “marginalisation and stigma” against the community in the US.

Stroop finished her open letter by calling on WHO to focus “more on healthcare access for both the transgender and broader LGBTQ communities”.

A report by the Center for American Progress found trans adults are significantly more likely than cisgender, heterosexual (cis-het) adults to have made at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime.

According to the report, forty-two per cent of trans adults made at least one serious suicide attempt in their life, compared to eight per cent of cis-het adults. Twenty-four per cent of trans adult had made multiple attempts to take their own life, compared to one per cent of cis-het adults.

The report also highlighted how trans adults encounter challenges and inequalities while accessing healthcare. These issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for trans people of colour, the report said.

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.