A new study suggests that transgender and gender non-conforming children and adolescents may be more likely to develop depression and other mental health conditions, compared with individuals whose gender identity matches their assigned gender at birth.
The research was conducted at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena. Study co-author Tracy A. Becerra-Culqui, Ph.D., and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Pediatrics.
According to Becerra-Culqui, previous studies that investigated the mental health of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals only looked at a small number of people, and any symptoms of mental health disorders were self-reported.
For this latest study, however, the team gathered data from the electronic medical records of 1,347 children and teenagers — aged 3–17 years — who were transgender or gender non-conforming.
Of these individuals, 44 percent were transfeminine (their assigned gender at birth was male), and 56 percent were transmasculine (their assigned gender at birth was female).
The study revealed that the risk of developing a mental health condition was three to 13 times higher for transgender and gender non-conforming youth than youth whose gender identity corresponded with their assigned gender at birth, also referred to as cisgender.
Diagnoses of depression and attention deficit disorder were the most common mental health conditions among children and teenagers who were transgender and gender non-conforming, the researchers report.
In fact, the risk of attention deficit disorder was three to seven times greater among these individuals, compared with those who were cisgender; and, the risk of depression was four to seven times greater.
Around 15 percent of transfeminine and 16 percent of transmasculine youth were diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, while depression was diagnosed among 49 percent of transfeminine and 62 percent of transmasculine youth.
Becerra-Culqui and colleagues are unable to pinpoint the precise reasons behind their findings, but they believe that gender dysphoria may play a role.
Gender dysphoria is a condition wherein an individual experiences distress because of a disconnect between their biological sex and the gender with which they identify.
Additionally, the team notes that many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are subject to prejudice and discrimination, which can cause stress and potentially lead to mental health problems.
Becerra-Culqui says that she hopes that this research “creates awareness about the pressure young people questioning their gender identity may feel, and how this may affect their mental well-being.”
She adds that clinicians should be aware of the heightened risk of mental health conditions that transgender and gender non-conforming youth may have.
“It is also crucial they have the knowledge necessary to provide social and educational support for their young patients who are figuring out their gender identity,” Becerra-Culqui adds.