The number of child counselling sessions about transgender issues and gender dysphoria offered by a national charity has reached a record level in the past year.
Kids as young as 11 have told counsellors they were unhappy with their assigned birth gender or felt their biological sex didn’t match their gender.
In 2015/16, the NSPCC’s helpline held 2,796 counselling sessions – an average of eight a day.
Young trans people frequently told Childline that they had suicidal thoughts, self-harmed, or suffered from mental health issues, which often stemmed from abuse, bullying, and a lack of support.
“We cannot call ourselves a modern society if we stigmatise children just because they feel different,” said Peter Wanless, NSPCC’s CEO.
Wanless continued: “It is vital that children have support otherwise, as they tell us all too often, they suffer.
“When a child is made to feel ashamed about who they are, it can trigger serious mental health issues and crippling shame.
“Adults must support a child as they explore what they’re feeling and guide them to get the right help when necessary.”
These sessions have more than doubled since the service first began recording figures in 2012/13, when there were 1,102 sessions on trans and gender dysphoria issues. In 2014/15 this figure rose to 1,299 sessions.
Young people aged 12 to 15 were most likely to talk about transgenderism or gender dysphoria.
One 16-year-old boy who identified as a girl told Childline: “I hate my body and feel hopeless and frustrated by mental health services. It’s really difficult to talk to my parents as they just don’t understand. I can’t cope with another year like this one.”
The NSPCC said transphobic bullying often stopped young people from speaking out. When children were honest about their gender identity, many complained they received cruel abuse.
Homophobic bullying, which included transphobic abuse, was mentioned in 450 counselling sessions last year.
A 13 year-old girl who identified as a boy said: “I’m being bullied on my social network account about being transgender and it’s awful. They constantly send me hateful messages and tell me to kill myself.
“I think it’s someone at school as they seem to know things about me. I have tried blocking them, but they make new accounts so I just can’t escape it.”
Young trans people told Childline that lengthy waiting times, a lack of services, and NHS staff lacking understanding all contributed to their mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts.
The NSPCC stated that an open and supportive culture is “key” to helping a child come to terms with who they are, while making them feel ashamed or dismissing their concerns could lead to children and young people developing harmful mental and physical problems.
Dr Helen Webberley, who supports adults and children with gender variance through her online clinic gendergp.co.uk, told HuffPost UK: “All of us involved in the care of children and young people are seeing a sharp increase in the numbers coming forward for help with gender related issues. This is being met with conflicting reactions from those who are closely involved, as well as those who are watching from afar.
“Key in all of this is the wellbeing of the children and adolescents who are reaching out in distress. We must do all that we can to support these young people and make sure that their physical and emotional needs are fully met, while at the same time informing and educating those that are there to support them.”
The charity offered parents the following advice on how to help children who are coming to terms with trans issues by:
Ask gentle questions to start the conversation so that they don’t feel pressurised.
Listen to them and let them know you’re not judging or blaming them.
Let them know that you support them.
Let them know that there are support groups and medical professionals who they can talk to.
Any child or young person who wants to talk about trans issues can call Childline on 0800 1111. Any parent who needs advice can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.