transA report into the health of transgender Australians has suggested a number of reforms to improve the physical and mental health of members of the trans community, with authors of the report calling for an urgent need for better training of all mental and physical health care professionals as well as improvements to Medicare access.

The report, ‘The Health Care Experiences of People whose Gender Identity Differs from that Expected of their Natally Assigned Sex’, by Flinders University researchers Damien Riggs and Clemence Due, was based on two online surveys open to Australian residents, undertaken in 2012 and 2013.

The first survey, completed by 78 people, utilised the terminology “people who were female assigned at birth but who now identify with a different gender identity”.  The second utilised the terminology of “people who identify as transgender women,” with a total of 110 people responding. Just over 50 percent of total survey respondents lived in either NSW or Victoria, while 82 percent lived in a large city.

One fifth of respondents said their annual wage was less than $6,000 while 54 percent in total earned under $34,000. A third of those surveyed reported receiving welfare support, with 15 percent of the nearly 200 people who took part in the study on the Disability Support Pension.

The report found that transgender people are most likely to face discrimination from local GPs when dealing with health professionals, ahead of sexual health clinicians, pharmacists and speech pathologists.

Of further concern, about 40 per cent of respondents reported either a ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ experience with a psychologist, while over 45 per cent reported similar negative experiences with psychiatrists.

Though the report found transgender people “rated their experiences as good or close to good overall,” the report’s authors said their findings suggested it was now the time for an overhaul of training methods for health professionals.

Riggs and Due have also called for more procedures and other services to be available to trans people under Medicare.

“Such training must move beyond the simplistic categorisation of all people whose gender identity differs from that expected of their natally assigned sex into one group, and instead to recognise the diversity of experiences of gender identity as outlined in this report,” Riggs and Due wrote in the report’s recommendations.

Melody Moore, from Trans Health Australia, told the Star Observer she was not surprised to see GPs rated as the group of health professionals most likely to discriminate as well as reports of trans people feeling let down by psychologists and psychiatrists.

“Members of the community often report issues accessing hormone therapy etcetera, and in getting referrals to other specialists. Those people in the community who have found willing GPs often have to educate and provide the resources they need in order to help them,” she said.

“The results also demonstrates those people who had positive experiences and were respected and well supported by the GPs had better mental health.”

Moore added that it was important more services were made available under Medicare, saying moves to do so would not only reduce rates of depression and mental illness but also lessen discrimination of trans people.

“Such treatment should also include hormone therapy, surgery, including feminisation and masculinisation surgery, hair removal and replacement, and speech therapy for vocal feminisation,” she said.

“These services are not just purely cosmetic, they allow trans people to feel more content and at peace with themselves by having congruency with their bodies, and will also help to have fewer issues with discrimination vilification and abuse in society. These services are also essential to job seekers along with other vocational support services as also indicated in this report.”

INFO: Read the report in full here.

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