A recent study on gender minority mental health in the U.S. gathered information from a national survey on college campuses among undergraduate and graduate students.
“I have been conducting transgender health research for more than a decade,” study author Sari Reisner told us. “Routine collection of gender identity data as a population demographic is vital to public health. The disparities seen in this study offers an example of why these data are so urgently needed.”
Researchers used data from a random mobile survey of students at 71 campuses. The information comprised the 2015−2017 Healthy Minds Study. The study looked at whether the students experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicidality.
“This nationally representative study provides unprecedented data about the mental health and well-being of more than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. who are gender minority, young people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth,” Reisner told us. “Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, non-suicidal self-injury were approximately twice as high for gender minority students than for cisgender students, and suicidality indicators such as suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts were three-to-four times higher. Public health efforts are urgently needed to meet the mental health needs of gender minority students.”
Gender minority students had significantly higher prevalence rates (78 per cent) of symptoms than their cisgender counterparts (45 per cent) and were found to be 4.3 times more likely to have at least one mental health problem.
“The syndemic of mental health issues facing gender minority students is heart-breaking,” Reisner told us. “Gender minority students are a vulnerable group of young people that deserve public health attention.”
“Reports that more than 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetimes suggested to me that there was a large and disproportionate burden of disease among transgender people that public health research can contribute to addressing,” study author Julia Raifman told us. “We are in a time when transgender people are being denied equal rights - to jobs, to housing, to health care, and to participate in the military. These data suggest that new policies eliminating equal rights for transgender people are affecting a population that already experiences a disproportionate burden of disease. As next steps, it will be important to evaluate whether equal rights or the elimination of equal rights for transgender people affects mental health disparities.”
The authors of the study hope their research shows that screening and providing gender-affirming services is needed for transgender students.
“This research highlights that there are disparities in mental health conditions among transgender relative to cisgender college and university students, underlining the important of campuses and mental health services that are inclusive and supportive of transgender students,” Raifman told us.
Raifman explained that just as we have great evidence that national and state policies shape population health, college and university institutional policies can shape the health of student populations.
“Policies that could support students include those to support use of students’ preferred names and pronouns, gender inclusive bathroom, dorm, and student group policies, and health insurance and care programs that support gender transitions,” Raifman told us.
The authors say that their research demonstrates that trans, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming young people face some of the most significant mental health inequities and that anyone interested in measurably improving adolescent and young adult mental health and reducing inequities should pay attention to gender minority youth.
“Policies, programs, and system changes that reduce discrimination and victimization, improve safety, enhance belonging, and create identity-affirming learning environments are needed to reduce the mental health burdens faced by gender minority youth,” study author Sara Abelson told us, “--those who are transgender, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, or self-identify their gender in some other way.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com