Gender and mental health
Your experiences with your gender may affect your mental health. For some, this can be a confusing or difficult time, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. Here's some information and advice to help.
What is gender identity?
Your gender identity is how you describe your gender. For example, you might say you are a woman, non-binary, transgender, a man, gender fluid, or something different. Your gender identity is your decision and is also about how you want others to treat you - for example, how you want people refer to you (‘she’, ‘him’, ‘they’ or something else).
Gender is different from ‘sex’. Your sex refers to your physical and biological body parts (like the penis, vagina, different hormones or breasts).
Over time, you might explore your gender and you might decide that you are a different gender than the sex you were born with. You might explore your gender at any point in your life, or continuously throughout your life, but it is common to do so during puberty when your hormones are changing and you’re exploring lots of different parts of who you are.
Here are some different words people use when talking about gender identity:
- Cisgender/cis: Someone who is the same gender they were assigned at birth
- Transgender: Someone whose gender is different from their sex at birth
- Non-binary/genderqueer/gender fluid: These are gender identities that sit within, outside of, across or between ‘male’ and ‘female.
- Intersex: A person who is born with biology that is not solely male or female. For example, chromosomes, hormone levels or reproductive organs that have female and male characteristics. These variations may not always be seen on the outside and so sometimes they are not diagnosed.
- Pronouns: the terms we use to refer to someone, e.g. ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’.
You may use something else to describe your gender. For more information about the different terms and gender identities, visit Stonewall.
How might gender identity impact my mental health?
Your experiences with your gender may affect your mental health in various ways. You might be questioning and exploring your gender, transitioning between genders, or thinking about transitioning. For some, this can be a confusing or difficult time. It may be distressing being viewed as a gender that doesn’t feel right, or being referred to with pronouns (‘he’ or ‘she’), that don’t feel right.
You may also struggle with your body image or how you feel in your own skin if your body does not match your gender. But it doesn’t always have to be this way and with the right help and support, things can start to feel better.
Gender dysphoria is the distress or unease you may feel if your gender does not match your biological sex - for example, if you are a man but have biologically female body parts, such as breasts.
Unfortunately, some people experience bullying, hostility or discrimination if their gender identity is not similar to the people around them. Experiencing this, or hearing about these experiences from others can mean there may be times or places where you don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing or expressing your gender. You might experience:
- feeling scared about sharing your gender with others
- hiding your identity because of anxiety about how people might react and what they’ll say
- worrying about what clothes you’re wearing to express your gender, or feeling pressure to express your gender in a particular way
- feeling self-conscious about how you walk or talk
- feeling like you have to act a certain way and be someone you’re not
- feeling misunderstood, even by those who are closest to you
- feeling under pressure to label your gender when you’re not sure, or to share your gender with others
- people using the wrong pronouns, like calling you ‘he’ when you are ‘they’
- being treated differently from others, or being bullied because of your gender
- feeling pressure to conform with the sex you were assigned at birth
- feeling unsupported or worried that your new gender won’t be accepted or understood by your family and friends
- people using your old name (“deadnaming”) when you have a new name
Having these experiences, particularly if they are on a regular basis, can be extremely distressing and overwhelming. You might start avoiding places or making conscious decisions about everyday things that others don’t need to think about.
Constantly carrying these emotions and making these decisions can be exhausting, and you may find it makes everyday tasks like eating, concentrating at school/work, engaging in conversation, or getting good sleep very difficult. You may also find it leads to feelings of:
If you are experiencing any of the above, it’s important to know you are not alone. There are people who can help you and things can get better. There are helplines, therapists, counsellors and mental health professionals you can talk to who understand what you’re going through.
If you need urgent help and are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can text the YoungMinds Crisis Messenger for free, 24/7 support across the UK. Text YM to 85258.
It may seem hard to believe, but things can change for society and for you. There are many people working hard every day to make society a more equal place for LGTBQIA+ people. You deserve to be who you are freely and without fear.
What you can do to look after your mental health
Talk about your feelings
If you’re struggling, it can help to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Speak to someone you feel comfortable with, like close friends, parents, a counsellor, a mentor or anyone else you trust. If you don’t feel safe talking to someone you know, you can call a helpline.
Write it down
If you don’t want to speak to anyone about your gender identity just yet, or you’re worried about people’s reactions, try writing down how you’re feeling. Getting your thoughts out can help you feel better and help you figure out what’s going on for you.
Expressing yourself through things like drawing, music, dance, fashion, creative writing or craft can help you relax and also explore your identity. Do something you enjoy that feels good for you.
Supportive groups and communities.
Finding supportive groups can be a great way to meet people with similar experiences to you and a shared understanding of what you’re going through. They can be safe spaces and create a sense of community for you, whether in person or online. A good place to start is seeing if there are any LGBTQIA+ youth groups in your local area or school.
Find role models
There are lots of people, whether they are people you know or influencers online, that can help you to feel positive and empowered. It can help to see other people like you who are going through a similar journey.
Clean up your social media
If you are seeing things online that make you feel upset or pressured, remember you can mute, block or unfollow accounts that bring you down. Taking breaks from social media can really help too – so try deleting your apps for a weekend and seeing if it helps. For more tips on how to have a positive time online take a look at our social media and mental health page.
Tips from our Activists
Our Activists share their advice if you’re struggling with your mental health and gender identity.
“Just know that there are people out there who understand you. You aren’t alone in this. There is a big, supportive community out there.”
“When I actually understood I was non-binary and I had learnt what I meant, it had a positive effect on my mental health! I felt so much better. There is no one way to look nonbinary, it’s not a third gender, and never let anyone make you feel bad for asking them to use your correct pronouns.” Asher, Activist
“You don’t have to figure yourself out quickly, if at all.”
Telling others about your gender
Sharing your gender with people is different for everyone. For most people, it’s an ongoing process that involves having a series of conversations with different people. It can take time for you to have these conversations and each time could be very different. Some people may not react in the way you would hope, but there are people who care about you and will want to support you on your journey, whether that’s family, friends, professionals, counsellors or online communities.
Often, people use the term ‘coming out’ to describe telling others about their gender. While this can be a really positive term for some people, it can also make people feel under pressure. You might feel some people have a right to know your gender when you don’t want to share or are not ready to do so. That is okay. There is nothing wrong with keeping your gender to yourself - it’s up to you how you define it and who you talk to about it.
Supporting a friend
If you want to support a friend with their gender identity:
- be visible in your support for the LGBTIQA+ community. This is called being an ally
- learning as much as you can about the experiences/challenges faced by the LGBTIQA+ community
- join part of a movement for change. Many organisations campaign for LGBTIQA+ equality and you can help them campaign and spread the word
- call out discrimination when you see/hear it
Our Activists share their tips for sharing your gender with others.
Where to get help
If you feel like your confusion or struggle with your gender identity is interfering with your daily life and affecting your mental health, talking to a GP can help. Your GP can suggest some options to give you more support, or may refer you to CAMHS.
There are also lots of organisations that have information and helpline services to support you.
Supports and provides information for transgender and gender-diverse young people (up to and including the age of 19) and their families.
Free webchat service available.
Phone: 0808 801 0400
Email: [email protected]
Opening times: 9am - 9pm, Monday - Friday
Works with the transgender community, with an emphasis on supporting young trans people aged 8-25.