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Trans, non-binary, gender diverse people more likely to have long-term mental health condition – study

The risk of reporting a mental health condition was higher for some gender minority groups, reaching almost one in two (47.2%) for non-binary transgender individuals. 

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The risk of having a long-term mental health condition is roughly one in six for transgender men and women (16.4% and 15.9%, respectively) and one in 10 for cisgender men and women (8.8% and 12.0%). The risk of reporting a mental health condition was even higher for some gender minority groups, reaching almost one in two (47.2%) for non-binary transgender individuals. 

This is according to a study – “Gender-related self-reported mental health inequalities in primary care in England: a cross-sectional analysis using the GP Patient Survey” by Ruth Elizabeth Watkinson, Aimee Linfield, Jack Tielemans, Igor Francetic, and Luke Munford – that was published in The Lancet Public Health.

Previous evidence suggests a higher risk of some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, amongst transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse patients compared with patients with male or female cisgender identities. However, these findings are from small studies focused on specific groups, such as students or patients seeking gender affirming healthcare, which are not generalisable to the full population.   

According to Munford: “Trans, non-binary and gender diverse people… face widespread discrimination, leading to stressful social interactions and feelings of unacceptance, increasing the risk of poor mental health. Additionally, gender dysphoria – a sense of unease due to a mismatch between a person’s biological sex and their gender identity – may increase the risk of poor mental health amongst some trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people, especially when combined with very long waiting times for… gender identity clinics.” 

Done in the UK, the study combined data from the 2021 and 2022 waves of the English GP Patient Survey, which in 2021 introduced more answer choices to questions on gender identity. Survey respondents, all over the age of 16, could choose one of five responses for their gender (Female, Male, Non-binary, Prefer to self-describe, Prefer not to say) and were asked how their gender identity compared to their sex registered at birth with three possible responses being coded (Cis, Trans, Prefer not to say).

The researchers looked at the responses to two questions in the survey: 

  • “Which, if any, of the following long-term conditions do you have?”, with one option being “A mental health condition” 
  • “During your last general practice appointment, did you feel that the healthcare professional recognised and/or understood any mental health needs that you might have had?” 

Out of 1,520,457 people who responded to the survey, 7,994 (0.7%) were transgender, 1,499,852 (98.3%) were cisgender and 12,611 (1.0%) preferred not to say.

Importantly, 2,600 (0.3%) non-binary people and 2,277 (0.2%) people who chose to self-describe their gender responded to the survey, allowing the researchers to look at outcomes for these groups who are rarely represented in health statistics.  

After controlling for age, the researchers found all transgender patients and cisgender non-binary patients had a higher risk of reporting a long-term mental health condition than cisgender men and women.  

  • The highest risk was for transgender non-binary patients, of whom one in two reported having a long-term mental health condition (47.2%).
  • For transgender men and women and for cisgender non-binary patients, the risk was roughly one in six (16.4%, 15.9% and 15.8% respectively).
  • The risk for cisgender men and women was the lowest at one in ten (8.8% and 12.0%).  

The survey did not ask for details of the mental health condition, but previous research has indicated common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as eating disorders, self-harm and suicidality are more common amongst transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse groups, whereas severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are thought to occur at rates similar to those in the binary cisgender population.

Alongside investigating the frequency of mental health conditions, the researchers also looked at how well people’s mental health needs were met at recent general practice appointments.

“Poor communication from health-care professionals and inadequate staff-patient relationships may explain why trans, non-binary, and gender diverse patients were more likely to report their mental health needs were not met at recent general practice appointments,” said Watkinson, lead author of the study. “Changes are urgently needed (for) a more supportive service to transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse patients, including improved recording of gender across health-care records systems and staff training to ensure health-care professionals meet the mental health needs of all patients, whatever their gender.”

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