The positive mental health of trans children supported in their identities

A new study shows that trans Kids supported by their families are not destined to have mental health problems.

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?

The new study out of the University of Washington is Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities by Kristina R. Olson (Social Cognitive Development Lab), Lily Durwood and Madelience De Meules, TransYouth Project, and Katie A. McLaughlin (Stress and Development Lab). The research has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

Apparently the answer is that yes, they are happy. To be more precise:

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 thinking has always been that kids who are not acting gender-stereotypically are basically destined to have mental health problems.

In our study, that’s not the case.

--Olson

They (the findings) 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.

--McLaughlin

The study required parents of transgender children to complete surveys under the NIH PROMIS program.

The research found that the transgender children’s levels of depression averaged a score of 50.1, almost the same as the national norm of 50. Their anxiety rates were 54.2, only slightly higher than the national norm.

Higher anxiety rates are attributed to a difficult cultural environment.

It is hard to be transgender in 2016 in the United States. If peers know that a child is transgender, they often tease that child. If peers do not know, the transgender child has to worry about being found out. It’s not surprising that transgender children would have some more anxiety, given the state of the world for transgender children right now.

--Olson

The study is part of the TransYouth Project that Olson leads. The initiative is the first large-scale, longitudinal study of transgender children in the U.S. It currently involves more than 150 transgender children and families from about 25 states, and Olson is recruiting additional participants. The project’s initial study, published in 2015, found that transgender children’s gender identities were as deeply rooted as those of their non-trans peers.

It will be important to follow these children over time, particularly during the transition to adolescence, to understand patterns of mental health and positive adjustment across development for transgender youth who are supported by their families.

--McLaughlin

I think they’re proof that you can be a young transgender kid today and be happy and healthy and doing just as well as any other kid. It’s some good news, finally, which I don’t think there’s much of in what we hear about transgender kids.

--Olson

Olson and her colleagues give supporters of social transition evidence of what we have suspected all along: that socially transitioned children are doing fine, or at least as well as their age-matched peers and siblings. This finding is truly stunning in light of the numerous studies that show depression and anxiety … up to 3 times higher for non-socially transitioned children.

--Ilana Sherer, UC San Francisco's Child and Adolescent Gender Center

Olson and McLaughlin also have an Op-Ed in the LA Times, How to raise happy, healthy transgender kids

Of course if the Republican Party has its way, any happiness in transgender children will be squished like a bug. They're non-conformity must be punished!

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