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Incarcerated trans, gender diverse people experience disproportionate mental health burden

Approximately 66% of incarcerated TGD individuals had a lifetime diagnosis for major depressive disorder. Sadly, 4 in 10 TGD individuals with a diagnosis were not currently receiving medication or counseling while in prison.

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Disproportionate mental health burden is experienced by incarcerated transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people.

This is according to a study – “The Disproportionate Mental Health Burden Among Incarcerated Transgender and Gender Diverse People” by Ethan M. Rogers, Andrew T. Krajewski, and Stef M. Shuster – that appeared in the Journal of Correctional Health.

The researchers noted that while research exploring incarceration rates of TGD people remain rare, estimates indicate that TGD individuals are disproportionately incarcerated, with estimates of incarceration history ranging from 19% to 65% for transgender women and men.

Worse, “TGD individuals face multiple barriers to care that are exacerbated in the prison setting. Macro-level barriers, such as restrictive and gender normative treatment guidelines, are reinforced by the gender-segregated structure of prisons,” the researcher stated.

For this study, the researchers used data from the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI), conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US.

More specifically:

  • Approximately 9 in 10 TGD individuals have ever been diagnosed by a professional for a mental health condition, compared to 7 in 10 cisgender women and 4 in 10 cisgender men. “This disproportionate mental health burden mirrors the trends in the general population comparing cisgender and TGD people’s mental health; however, the extent of these disparities in prisons is striking.”
  • Approximately 66% of incarcerated TGD individuals had a lifetime diagnosis for major depressive disorder, even if recent estimates indicate that only 27% of TGD people in the general population have a similar diagnosis. “Research should continue to investigate the mechanisms through which these disparities are exacerbated in prison.”
  • Among those with a lifetime diagnosis, TGD individuals were more likely to receive medication and counseling during incarceration than their cisgender counterparts. Still, more than 4 in 10 TGD individuals with a diagnosis were not currently receiving medication or counseling while in prison. “These findings may be particularly concerning when paired with research, indicating that psychological services — when provided — are often ineffective in meeting the needs of TGD individuals.”

The researchers recommended that correctional officials “implement treatment and services tailored to the particular needs of TGD individuals given their disproportionate rates of mental health conditions in prison.”

These include: making accessible therapists trained to work with TGD individuals; making available gender-affirming care; raising awareness and implementing competency trainings among prison staff; and upholding the rights and health of transgender individuals.

“This study documents the disproportionate mental health burden among incarcerated TGD people. TGD individuals in prison reported poorer mental health outcomes and greater clinical contact than their cisgender counterparts. These data reveal a striking mental health challenge within prisons that policy makers and correctional officials must confront,” the researchers ended.

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