Transgender children who transform their appearance to match their gender identity may not experience mental health problems but more depression and anxiety often than other children, a small U.S. study suggests.
According to lead study author and director of the TransYouth Project at the University of Washington- Kristina Olson, almost all of studies of transgender children show that they have far higher rates of anxiety and depression than other kids.
The study results are noticeable because there is a growing number of parents who are letting transgender children make a social transition. This transition allows them to change their appearance like their clothes and hair to suit their gender identity, researchers note in the journal Pediatrics.
In the study, 73 transgender kids age 3 to 12, together with 49 of their siblings and a control group of 73 non-transgender kids at the same ages and in similar gender identity were included to discover the link between social transition and mental health. Parents of these children were asked to fill in mental health evaluation forms which detail symptoms of depression and anxiety showed by their kids.
On a scale of 0 to 100, given that the national scores average were 50, the transgender kids had average depression scores of about 50, compared with 49 for their siblings and 48 for the group of non-transgender kids.
For anxiety symptoms, the group of transgender kids had average scores of about 54, compared with 52 for their siblings and 51 for the control group. The scores of transgender kids were higher than those of the other groups but still below the threshold in which doctors normally diagnose anxiety and give medical treatment.
Plus, researchers found the scores for internalizing symptoms like anxiety and depression for these transgender kids were far lower than results from earlier studies. The average internalizing scores in the study were about 52, too low to be considered in need of treatment. The average scores in two previous studies were 61 and 64, high enough to get treatment.
However, a limitation of the study is that it’s small and can’t prove that social transitioning promotes transgender children’ mental health, the authors note. It’s also likely that support of the family could affected the results, and that transgender children receiving less support from their families might have higher levels of anxiety and depression.
According to Dr. Aron Janssen, clinical director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at the New York University Child Study Center, social transitioning may still be a gradual process which begins at home and slowly expands to school and other public places.