Studies of mental health among transgender people in the United States have been consistently grim, showing higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
But almost nothing is known about the mental health of a new and growing generation of transgender Americans — prepubescent children who are living openly as transgender with the support of their families. How do those children fare in an environment of openness and family support? When their gender identity is affirmed, are they happy?
New University of Washington research suggests the answer is yes. Published Feb. 26 in Pediatrics, the study is believed to be the first to look at the mental health of transgender children who have “socially transitioned,” changing their preferred pronouns and typically, their names, clothing, and hairstyles.
The research found that the 73 children, age 3 to 12, 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.
This article was first published by the University of Washington: Transgender children supported in their identities show positive mental health
American Academy of Pediatrics: Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities