Study Finds Multiple Health Disparities for Transgender Youth
New research out of New Zealand reports that teens that identify as transgender have poor safety and well-being across a number of areas in comparison to their non-transgender peers. The study, published in the January 2014 issue of The Journal of Adolescent Health, was part of a national health survey of 8,500 randomly selected high school students in New Zealand. They were asked the question: “Do you think you are transgender? This is a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl.” Based on their answers, students were categorized as transgender, non-transgender, not sure about gender, and didn’t understand the question.
The majority of students identified as non-transgender (95%); while 1.2% identified as transgender and 2.5% were not sure. Most of the transgender students said they had not told anyone close to them that they were transgender.
Among the transgender students, more than 76% said they had a parent who cared “a lot” about them. About 47% said they had friends who cared a lot about them (vs 67% of non-transgender students).
When it came to risks to safety and well-being, transgender students were at increased risk in all areas measured when compared to non-transgender students. Fifty-three percent said they felt unsafe at school and about 50% said they had been hit or harmed at school.
Significant depressive symptoms were reported in 41% of transgender students, vs just 11.8% of non-transgender students. Transgender students also had high rates of self-harm (45.5%) and attempted suicide (close to 20%).
The authors point out that nationally representative research on transgender youth is virtually non-existent; and those studies that do exist tend to lump transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens into one group. However, identity surrounding gender and sexual orientation can vary widely and combining the two doesn’t allow for clear data about transgender youth. For example, in this study 55% of students who identified as transgender were exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, while 41% were not exclusively attracted to the opposite sex.
This study, while performed outside of the US, paints a troubling picture for all transgender teens. Rates of self-harm and suicide attempt are significantly higher in this population. And factors such as having loving parents and friends may not be enough to protect against bullying and mental health problems. The full study can be read at Clark TC, J Adolescent Health 2014; January 14, online ahead of print.