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UW Study Shows Positive Mental Health For Transgender Children Supported By Their Families

Tim Evanson
New research suggests transgender children who are suported in their identity don't have elevated rates of depression.

A groundbreaking study of transgender children by University of Washington researchers finds that kids who are allowed to live as the gender of their choosing show positive mental health. In fact, their anxiety and depression levels are nearly the same as non-transgender children.

There hasn’t been much research on the well-being of transgender kids in the past, and what research there is has found very high rates of depression and anxiety.

But psychology professor Kristina Olson of the University of Washington says those findings come mainly from clinics where being transgender is treated like a disorder. Now she is looking at a different group: trans children whose families support them, treating them as the gender they identify with.

Olson surveyed families of 73 such kids, and compared them with two control groups: one made up of non-transgender kids from their own families, and another comprised of non-transgender kids from the general population. She found transgender subjects’ rates of depression are no higher than non-trans kids, while their anxiety rates were just barely higher.

“These are certainly the first results to ever show that you could have a large group of gender-nonconforming kids who are doing well. I think it’s a huge deal to families to know that there’s this possibility of a good outcome,” she said.

Olson notes that more research is needed to understand whether the better outcomes are due directly to the parental acceptance, or whether other factors are at play. Previous research has shown that for older transgender youth and adults, family support does track with better mental health.

She plans to continue recruiting supported transgender children and with the intention of observing them over the course of years, to understand their identity and mental health over time.

Her findings are published in the journal Pediatrics. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.