A study has found that transgender children who get the support for their gender identity are better off.
Writing in “Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities” in Pediatrics, Kristina R. Olson, Lily Durwood, Madeleine DeMeules and Katie A. McLaughlin found that “socially transitioned transgender children who are supported in their gender identity have developmentally normative levels of depression and only minimal elevations in anxiety.”
The study aimed to ascertain the state of mental health of transgender children who have socially transitioned (those who identify as the gender “opposite” their natal sex) and are supported to live openly as that gender. It was seen as important because previous work with children with gender identity disorder (or GID, now termed gender dysphoria) has found higher rates of anxiety and depression in these children.
For this study, a community-based national sample of transgender, prepubescent children (n = 73, aged 3–12 years), along with control groups of nontransgender children in the same age range (n = 73 age- and gender-matched community controls; n = 49 sibling of transgender participants), were recruited as part of the TransYouth Project. Parents completed anxiety and depression measures.
The study found that transgender children showed no elevations in depression. They did not differ from the control groups on depression symptoms and had only marginally higher anxiety symptoms.
According to the authors: “Socially transitioned, prepubescent transgender children showed typical rates of depression and only slightly elevated rates of anxiety symptoms compared with population averages. These children did not differ on either measure from two groups of controls: their own siblings and a group of age and gender-matched controls. Critically, transgender children supported in their identities had internalizing symptoms that were well below even the preclinical range. These findings suggest that familial support in general, or specifically via the decision to allow their children to socially transition, may be associated with better mental health outcomes among transgender children. In particular, allowing children to present in everyday life as their gender identity rather than their natal sex is associated with developmentally normative levels of depression and anxiety.”
However, the same transgender children showed and slightly elevated anxiety relative to population averages. This may be because “despite receiving considerable support from their families, these children likely still experience relatively high rates of peer victimization or smaller daily micro-aggressions, particularly if their peers know that they are transgender, which can in turn lead to marked elevations of anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorders.”