According to new research published in JAMA Network Open, socially transitioned transgender youth experience similar levels of anxiety and depression to their siblings or same-age peers.
The term transgender refers to people whose gender identity does not match the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. A number of psychology studies have shed light on the mental health challenges faced by transgender youth. These studies have uncovered rates of anxiety and depression among transgender children that exceed those of their cisgender peers. Cisgender is a term that describes individuals whose gender identity is aligned with their assigned sex/gender.
But study authors Dominic J. Gibson and his team note that findings from more recent, small-scale studies suggest that transgender youth who have socially transitioned show similar mental health scores to their peers. Social transitioning is when a person changes the way they present themselves publicly, in order to better express their gender identity. These changes can include adopting a different name, new pronouns, and new clothing choices.
To add to this research, Gibson and his colleagues conducted their own study using a large sample of transgender youth. The researchers recruited three groups of children between the ages of 8 and 14 — 148 socially transitioned transgender children, 88 cisgender siblings of transgender youth, and 139 age-matched cisgender children (controls). The children completed self-report measures of depression and anxiety, and in some cases, parents additionally reported on children’s anxiety and depression.
When the researchers compared the three groups of children, they found that child-reported depression and child-reported anxiety did not differ significantly between the three groups. In other words, according to the child reports, the transgender children experienced similar levels of depression and anxiety compared to their cisgender peers and siblings.
Moreover, parent-reported depression did not differ significantly between the three groups. Only parent-reported anxiety was significantly higher among transgender youth compared to controls, but not compared to cisgender siblings.
The findings are aligned with more recent studies suggesting that socially transitioned transgender youth show normative or only marginally elevated rates of anxiety and depression. Still, the authors note that their study was not without limitations — the sample was disproportionately white and families with high socioeconomic status and high parental education may have been overrepresented.
Gibson and his team stress that their findings do not invalidate the mental health challenges experienced by transgender youth. Rather, the study demonstrates that psychological harm is not an inevitable aspect of the transgender experience and that many transgender children experience strong mental health. The researchers say it is unknown whether there were factors at play that might have supported the psychological health of the youth in their study, such as high levels of support from parents or the youth’s early social transition.
The study, “Evaluation of Anxiety and Depression in a Community Sample of Transgender Youth”, was authored by Dominic J. Gibson, Jessica J. Glazier, and Kristina R. Olson.