LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS 11)--A health care summit on UofL's campus will focus on the LGBT community and the mental health issues many experience. Depression, anxiety and suicide rates skyrocket for transgender kids and a lack of understanding in the healthcare field makes it even harder to get help.
"Being transgender is something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy," Mandy Renee Cunningham said.
Cunningham's lived life as a woman the last 11 years, but knew much earlier on, this was the life she was meant to lead. Looking back on her childhood as a boy, you won't find any photos.
"I tore every picture I ever had up," Cunningham said.
She struggled with anxiety, depression and attempted to take her own life when she hit puberty.
"I didn't even want to take a shower, go to the bathroom. I didn't want to see myself naked in the tub. That's how bad it was," Cunningham said.
For many in the transgender community, this is their reality.
"I would say a majority of the mental health problems of this population are because of society and culture and the discrimination they face," Dr. Christine Brady, a child psychologist at UofL's Bingham Clinic said.
Dr. Brady's met with more than 100 kids in the last year who identify as the opposite sex, some as early as 3 and 4 years old.
"The transgender youth are facing issues that are so incredibly complex it truly takes a village in order to wrap around and help them. Our village now is small but our hope is with this summit we can expand," Dr. Brady said.
Dr. Brady will lead a discussion this week at the LGBT Healthcare Summit sponsored by Humana. It's open to anyone, but a large portion of her audience will be doctors and other healthcare providers who, in general, lack the knowledge and understanding of the transgender community. Are they asking the appropriate questions and using the correct terminology? For instance, the term 'pelvic exam' versus 'female exam' can make all the difference in making a person feel welcome.
"I think it's especially important to communicate early on with a transgender youth, 'I'm an ally. I'm an advocate. I'm affirmative. I'm going to help you.' To make them feel comfortable right off the bat because there's a high likelihood they won't come back," Dr. Brady said.
The healthcare summit will include a panel of community members speaking to the challenges and successes around this issue in Louisville. Cunningham, who's undergone gender reassignment surgery, is one of them.
"If people could come together and just see that we're human and not a burden on society."
In the state of Kentucky, to get your name and gender-switched on major documents like your birth certificate, you must go through gender reassignment surgery. That's problematic for many in the transgender community. It's a costly expense and something not everyone feels they need to identify as the opposite sex. Cunningham hopes more understanding by not only the medical community, but also those in local and state government will help bring change to this issue.
The LGBT Healthcare Summit at UofL is Feb. 16, and open to the public. Dr. Brady's session will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Brady says it's a great resource for parents of children going through this right now. You can get your questions answered and learn how best to talk to your kids.
The talks will center around three sessions:
- Enhancing Substance Use Disorder Treatment Responsiveness for LGBT Clients
- Organizational Capacity Building: Enhancing Substance Use Disorder Treatment Responsiveness for LGBT Clients
- Transgender and Gender Creative Youth: Mental Health and Evidence-based Treatments
To learn more about each session, or how to sign up for the LGBT Health Summit sponsored by Humana, click here.