LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of children in Britain contacting a helpline with concerns about their gender identity has more than doubled this year with some as young as 11 telling counsellors they feel "trapped in the wrong body", a charity said on Tuesday.
Childline, a service run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), said it held a record 2,796 counselling sessions about gender identity and gender dysphoria in 2015/16 - equivalent to nearly eight a day.
Gender dysphoria is a mental health condition in which a person feels their identity does not match their physical body.
The charity could not explain the rise in requests for help - mainly from children aged between 12 and 15.
Many had suicidal thoughts, harmed themselves or experienced mental health issues stemming from abuse, bullying and lack of support, the charity said.
"When a child is made to feel ashamed about who they are, it can trigger serious mental health issues and crippling shame," the charity's CEO Peter Wanless said in a statement.
The increase reflects a spike in referrals to Britain's only gender identity service for children, which more than doubled to 1,419 in 2015/16 compared with the year before.
Yet the growing number of British children coming out as transgender has fueled fears among activists and experts that children may be simply labeled as transgender when they could be gay, lesbian or curious about exploring their gender.
Last year the British government said surveys showed nearly half of young transgender people attempted suicide.
Many of the children contacting Childline said the abuse they received had left them feeling desperate.
"People shout at me every day and call me stupid and ugly," one 15-year-old transgender girl told the NSPCC. "I can't cope anymore and I wish I could escape from everything."
A 13-year-old transgender boy told the NSPCC he was being bullied on his social network account.
"They constantly send me hateful messages and tell me to kill myself. I have tried blocking them but they make new accounts so I just can't escape it."
Some children were concerned about how to tell their parents about their gender dysphoria, while others were distressed by long delays in receiving treatment.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)