Transgender Kids: Support Key to Emotional Health
Study did not find higher depression levels when parents backed children's choice
By Amy Norton
FRIDAY, Feb. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Transgender children who feel supported seem to have no greater risk of depression and anxiety than other kids do, a new study suggests.
Experts said the findings are welcome news -- especially in light of past studies finding high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among transgender children and adults.
These latest results suggest that when transgender kids feel supported in their "social transition," their mental well-being is on par with their peers, the researchers said.
Social transitioning is considered an option for children who consistently identify as transgender. It means that the children take on a name, clothing, hairstyle and other characteristics typical of the gender they identify with, rather than the gender they were born with.
No one is suggesting that social transition is the answer for all -- or even most -- children who are gender nonconforming, said Kristina Olson, the lead researcher on the study.
"Gender nonconforming" means a child prefers the games, toys, clothes and other behaviors often associated with the opposite sex -- but he or she doesn't necessarily identify as a member of that gender.
"Most clinicians who support social transitions believe they are only helpful for a very small subset of gender nonconforming children -- the subset who are truly identifying as the 'other' gender regularly and for an extended period," said Olson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in Seattle.
And it's not clear that social transitioning, by itself, had mental health benefits for children in this study, according to Olson.
That's partly because kids who are able to make the transition likely have families, friends or even whole communities generally supportive of them, she explained.
"Without further study it's difficult to know exactly what feature of these children's lives is causing their good overall mental health," Olson said.
But at the very least, she said, the findings challenge the notion that transgender children are destined for poorer mental health.
The study findings were published online Feb. 25 in the journal Pediatrics.