Welcome to my TED Talk for World Mental Health Day

The theme for World Mental Health Day 2018 is “Young people and mental health in a changing world”. I can’t think of a worse time to be a young person.

When I was a young person I used to work for a guy called Stuart. He had this theory that the first two people on earth were cavemen called Ug and Og, and he would make up sumptuously improbable stories about how Ug and Og were responsible for many of the creature comforts we hold so dear today. Example: Og invented batteries, did you know that? Because Ug needed something to power his Walkman* and Og quickly whipped up some Ni-Cad AAs on a Stone Age workbench.

I imagine Ug and Og’s children (mysteriously they never had wives) faced things like shortage of food, not knowing what was food and what was poisonous, not knowing what was food and what thought you were food, and many other problems, not all of which were food-related but I imagine hunger was high on Ugsson’s and Ogsdottir’s chiselled Open Issues list.

Things they didn’t have to face include the following.

Peer pressure from a literally global audience of peers. Being able to own their own home appearing above flat earth theory and capitalism on lists of crackpot notions. The most powerful man on the planet being a confessed sexual abuser and alleged rapist. Being fucked over by their own grandparents because the old bastards didn’t like Polish plumbers. Being fucked over by their own government, one they’re not old enough to vote for but who makes monumental decisions about their futures that they’re not allowed a say in. A future where the only jobs will be servicing the machines that do all the work. A future where the oxygen in the atmosphere could be consumed by continent-wide wildfires and where the sun exploding and consuming the earth in 7 billion years starts to look like an upside.

When it comes to trans youth, we throw an extra bunch of spanners at. Although many do not identify as trans until they are adult, most trans youngsters knew they were different from a young age. This increases the pressures on young people who are already seeking an identity, finding their way in the world, and spending much of their time in their bedroom trying to incorporate more black into their lives.

Instead of getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing and fighting, one in three trans youth are experiencing major depression and one in two report self-harming. The isolation, discrimination and stigmatisation they experience increases the risk of harmful behaviours, such as substance abuse. All of these things significantly increase the risk of suicide.

When I reflect on my own very difficult adolescence my main observation is that I could probably have spent a lot less time masturbating. In terms of useful observations, I was a fairly typical common or garden trans young person waiting to hatch. Back then of course I didn’t know what I was, because we didn’t have the terminology we have now, and because I’m a post-structuralist project manager with a positive fetish for labels I needed the right label to be able to frame my experiences.

The signs were there. Many of my heroes were gay and my closest friends were female (still are). I didn’t identify with the boys in my class, wasn’t into what they were into, didn’t share the same values. I didn’t know how to dress and thought women had much better clothes (still don’t, still do).

What I needed back then were the things that I’ve only been able to find as an adult. Someone who listens. Someone who questions without judging. Someone who questions to help explore, not pry. Available resources to help me help myself. Some space just to be me, or, as we say elsewhere on this blog, to let You Do You™.

In a publication by Public Health England I came across a really helpful toolkit for talking to young trans people. It’s called the BATHE technique:

Background What’s going on in your life? Invites young people to talk about the significant matters in their lives by using direct, open-ended questions
Affect How do you feel about that? Asks young people to recognize their feelings and understand how situations affect their emotions and behaviours.
Troubling What troubles you the most about it? Aims to help young people determine why and how significantly a situation troubles them and how it impacts them
Handling How are you dealing with that? Provides an opportunity to learn about and reinforce young person’s own healthy coping strategies and suggest additional interventions.
Empathy That must be very difficult for you. Shows the young person’s response to the situation is reasonable. Demonstrates understanding for their
position, feelings and perceptions.

It’s so simple and like all the best ideas it just screams out, “yeah but isn’t it just common sense?” Yeah, it is common sense, but then so is not discriminating against trans kids in the first place.

* A “Walkman” was a device you carried around that played “tape cassettes”. You listened to the 6 or 7 songs on the first side, and then you took the cassette out and literally turned it over to play the remaining songs. You couldn’t make calls with your Walkman or install Instagram on it. And unless you bought Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s first album, and if you grew up in the 80s and didn’t buy it then were you really there during the 80s at all, advertisers couldn’t serve you adverts on one. It was a better time all round.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash


Let’s let Whitney have the last word.


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