Mom and dad, there’s something I need to tell you.
Nick Somaiya was 14 when he wrote a three-page note to his parents telling them that he wanted to start his transition from “Anika” to “Nick.”
“I just wrapped it up and slid it under their doorway and went to sleep because I felt like I had this weight finally come off my chest,” he said.
The feeling of relief was short-lived.
Even though his parents told him that they would love him no matter what, Nick’s battle with anxiety, depression and self-harm lasted years as he endured gender therapy, hormone treatment and breast reduction surgery.
Canada has become a more inclusive, tolerant society than it was years ago, yet young members of the LGBTQ+ community still face considerable challenges when they come out and are disproportionately at risk of suicide and self-harm.
I can only talk about it now because I have so much distance from it.
A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reported that LGBTQ+ youth face higher rates of depression and anxiety, and about 14 times the risk of suicide and self-harm.
Many youth like Somaiya feel there is still “more to be done [across Canada].”
After he came out to his parents, Somaiya went to CAMH to undergo a year of therapy with a gender specialist before starting hormones. He was also diagnosed with gender dysphoria and referred to a psychiatrist to seek help for anxiety and depression.
The American Psychiatric Association describes gender dysphoria as a “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” The condition has since been re-named gender identity disorder.
Somaiya, now 20, said that his anxiety and depression developed as a result of feeling like he was the only one in school who was uncomfortable in his own body.
“There were times where I didn’t want to live. There were times that I would cut myself … Because it’s about me being in a group of people and still feeling disconnected from them,” said Somaiya.
Thirty-three per cent of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide, in comparison to seven per cent of heterosexual youth, according to Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.
“Self-harm was the main way [my mental health issues] manifested itself. And also just like, crying a lot,” said Ella Kohlmann.
Kohlmann, 21, grew up in Markham and came out as gay to her parents when she was 18.
“I can only talk about it now because I have so much distance from it,” said Kohlmann. “I guess queerness is part of feeling not good enough because you’re failing to fit inside some sort of mold for society.”
Rainbow Health Ontario, a program run by Toronto’s Sherbourne Health service, said queer youth face greater risk of mental and physical health problems due to the stress of concealing their orientation or modifying their behaviour to avoid homophobia and violence.
Hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community account for 10 per cent of all hate crimes in Canada in 2017, according to Statistics Canada.
“When we’re coming out, it’s isolating,” said Mina Gerges, 24.
When Gerges came out to his parents as gay, they told him that they wanted to commit suicide and blamed “[him] being gay on the fact that [they] were in Canada.”
Gerges, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, was told that he had been “polluted” by Canadian culture.
“Just me being myself gave my parents reason to want to kill themselves,” Gerges said.
Gerges battled depression and an eating disorder throughout university. “I was coming to terms with the fact that I’m gay. For me, that meant unlearning a lot of the cultural and religious stigmas that I grew up with … I was never going to live up to my parents’ expectations of who they wanted me to be.”