Support For Transgender Kids Is Critical To Mental Health

The number of children who identify as transgender rises more every year, and so does the need for mental health and emotional support for each one.

Some believe that transgender kids suffer more with mental health battles than other children in their age groups because the number of transgender teen suicides has spiked. However, a study conducted by the director of TransYouth and Social Cognitive Development at the University of Washington, Kristina Olson, and her team of researchers, suggests the contrary.

The team documented their study results in the journal Pediatrics, published earlier this week. They included information collected from a group of transgender kids who have to dress to match the gender with which they identify instead of being forced to wear things that kids of the same-sex wear. They noted that these kids displayed little difference in their levels of depression and anxiety compared to their classmates.

“This finding is quite surprising given that, to date, nearly all studies of young gender diverse kids show that they have much higher rates of depression and anxiety than other children. In contrast, these children are looking remarkably typical.”

Olson and her research team place real value on the study. More parents allow their transgender children to change things about their appearance and openly embrace their identity.

During the study, Olson and her team used three groups of children. They selected over 70 transgender kids between the ages of 3-12 and about 50 of their siblings, plus another group of 70+ children who were around the same age, but did not identify as transgender. Using a typical grading scale of 0-100, they rated the levels of depression within each group. They discovered that 50 was the national average, and that there was no significant drop or spike in the numbers

The average anxiety level for the transgender children was about 54, and although the differences between the different groups increased by another two to three points, the numbers alone still were by no means setting off any warning bells.

Dr. Illana Sherer, founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at the University Of California, San Francisco, was pleased about the low numbers the study produced.

“I have been seeing more and more kids who are absolutely thriving and happy, especially as communities and families become more aware of the importance of accepting and supporting these kids as they are.”

Olson and her research team liked the results, as well. The intention to illustrate how much difference a strong support system from friends and family makes to the mental well-being of transgender children. Kids who feel loved unconditionally for, and encouraged to be, who they are, remain happier and healthier than those who have to please people who aren’t as supportive.

However, those invested in the study stress that these children must have the freedom to transition socially at school, not just at home.

“Parents need to allow kids to socially transition at school and everywhere else they go. I don’t think the outcomes would be as positive if kids only socially transitioned at home.”

Dr. Aron Janssen, clinical director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at the New York University Child Study Center, interacted with the researchers and the kids via email.

“The goal is for the children to be able to live without secrecy and affirmed in their identity, regardless of the environment.”

The doctors and researchers involved also documented that, while these were promising results, they need to collect more information to guarantee accuracy and success with all cases. However, this way, parents can begin with a more simple solution to helping their transgender child.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]