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Nonfiction Social Sciences

Mental Health and Self-Worth in Socially-Transitioned Transgender Youth

By Lily Durwood, Katie A. McLaughlin, and Kristina R. Olson, 2016

Objective. Social transitions are increasingly common among transgender children. A social transition involves a child presenting to other people as a member of the “opposite” gender in all contexts (e.g., wearing clothes and using pronouns of that gender). Little is known about the wellbeing of socially transitioned transgender children. In this study, we examined self-reported depression, anxiety, and self-worth among socially transitioned transgender children as compared to two control groups: age- and gender-matched controls and siblings of transgender children. Method. As part of a longitudinal study (the TransYouth Project), children (ages 9-14 years old) and their parents completed measures of depression and anxiety (n=63 transgender children, n=63 controls, n=38 siblings). Children (ages 6-14; n=116 transgender children, n=122 controls, n=72 siblings) also reported on their self-worth. Mental health and self-worth were compared across groups. Results. Transgender children reported depression and self-worth that did not differ from their matched-control or sibling peers, p=.311, and they reported marginally higher anxiety, p=.076. Compared to national averages, transgender children showed typical rates of depression, p=.290, and marginally higher anxiety, p=.096. Parents similarly reported that their transgender children experienced more anxiety than children in the control groups, p=.002, and rated their transgender children as having equivalent levels of depression, p=.728. Conclusion. These findings are in striking contrast to previous work with gender nonconforming children who had not socially transitioned, which has found very high rates of depression and anxiety. These findings reduce concerns from previous work that parents of socially transitioned children could be systematically underreporting mental health problems.

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