Transgender children with supportive families have good mental health, according to a study published Friday (26 February) in Pediatrics.
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) surveyed the parents of 73 transgender children, age 3 to 12, and found they had rates of depression and anxiety no higher than two control groups – their own siblings and a group of age and gender-matched children.
And their rates of depression and anxiety were significantly lower than those of gender-nonconforming children in previous studies.
The findings, said lead author Kristina Olson, challenge long-held assumptions that mental health problems in transgender children are inevitable, or even that being transgender is itself a type of mental disorder.
‘The thinking has always been that kids who are not acting gender-stereotypically are basically destined to have mental health problems,’ said Olson, a UW assistant professor of psychology.
‘In our study, that’s not the case.’
Co-author Katie McLaughlin, a UW assistant professor of psychology, called the findings ‘incredibly promising.’
‘They suggest that mental health problems are not inevitable in this group, and that family support might buffer these children from the onset of mental health problems so commonly observed in transgender people,’ she said.
The research found that the transgender children’s levels of depression averaged a score of 50.1, almost the same as the national norm of 50. Their anxiety rates were 54.2, only slightly higher than the national norm.
The higher anxiety rates aren’t exactly surprising, Olson said.
‘It is hard to be transgender in 2016 in the United States,’ she said.
‘If peers know that a child is transgender, they often tease that child. If peers do not know, the transgender child has to worry about being found out. It’s not surprising that transgender children would have some more anxiety, given the state of the world for transgender children right now.’
The study is part of the TransYouth Project that Olson leads. The initiative is the first large-scale, longitudinal study of transgender children in the US and involves more than 150 transgender children and families from about 25 states.
The project’s initial study, published in 2015, found that transgender children’s gender identities were as deeply rooted as those of their non-trans peers.