VICTORIA, Australia — Transgender children as young as nine may suffer from a range of mental health problems, according to new research. Researchers in Australia say they are almost six times as likely to feel suicidal than their cisgender peers.
Rates of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems including ADHD also increase by as much as three-fold. The findings suggest young adolescents wanting to change gender face greater challenges than previously feared.
Corresponding author Dr. Ken Pang, from the University of Melbourne, believes the problems could be due to stigma stress, discrimination, or dissatisfaction with their gender.
“Previous research using clinical samples of transgender children aged 5 to 11 years reported lower rates of depression and anxiety than we observed in this cohort study,” study authors write in the journal JAMA Network Open.
“A possible reason for this disparity is that transgender children attending specialist gender clinics are likely to have support from their families (a key protective factor for the mental health of transgender young people); in comparison, many transgender children in the general population lack parental support for their gender.”
‘Concerning levels’ of depression among young transgender children
The Australian team analyzed data on more than 7,000 nine and 10-year-olds from the U.S., enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study.
They identified conditions from the DSM-5, the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which researchers call the bible of psychiatry. Study authors asked each participant “are you transgender?” Fewer than one in a hundred (58) answered in the affirmative.
Dr. Pang runs a pediatric practice that focuses on the care of transgender children and adolescents. He says past research has pointed to “concerning levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.”
However, much of this research has focused on transgender young people attending specialist gender clinics which may miscalculate prevalence and severity. The ABCD is the largest long-term study of child health of its kind and represents a general population.
“This is, to our knowledge, the first study to report rates of DSM-5–related problems using a representative population sample of transgender children,” researchers write in their report.
“Our findings suggest that by 9 to 10 years of age transgender children already show increased susceptibility to mental health problems compared with their cisgender peers, which has important public health implications.”
“Whether this is due to stigma, minority stress, discrimination, or gender dysphoria is unclear, but providing appropriate mental health supports to this vulnerable group is paramount.”
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.