Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Support at Home, in Community May Protect Against Emotional Distress, Substance Use in Transgender Youth

Transgender and gender-diverse youth who feel close with their parents are less likely to experience emotional distress and engage in substance use compared with those reporting less connected relationships with parents, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study also found that youth who feel safe at school and have stronger relationships with teachers and other adults are less likely to experience depression, suicidality, and engage in substance use.

“Given that transgender and gender-diverse [TGD] youth report lower levels of connectedness and safety, bolstering an explicitly transgender and gender-diverse−friendly network of caring parents, safe and supportive schools, and connections to adults in the community may support efforts to eliminate disparities in depression, suicidality, and substance use,” Amy L. Glower, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota and colleagues wrote.

For the study, Glower and colleagues examined data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey—a survey that asks students about school climate, bullying, out-of-school activities, health and nutrition, emotional and mental health, relationships, substance use, and more. As part of the survey, students in the ninth and 11th grades were asked, “What is your biological sex?” (response options: male/female) and whether they “identify as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or unsure about their gender identity” (yes/no).

The researchers examined associations between eight protective factors (connectedness to parents, adult relatives, friends, adults in the community, and teachers; youth development opportunities; and feeling safe in the community and at school) and depression, suicidality, and substance use (alcohol, binge drinking, marijuana, nicotine) among 2,168 adolescents who identified as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or questioning their gender.

Of the 2,168 included in the analysis, 57.9% met the cutoff score for additional depression screening using the Patient Health Questionnaire-2, 44.9% reported suicidal ideation, and 16.7% reported a suicide attempt; substance use ranged from 11.2% (binge drinking) to 25.9% (any nicotine use). Feeling more connected to parents was related to significantly lower odds of all indicators of emotional distress and substance use relative to those reporting less connected relationships with parents, the authors reported.

“Given that TGD youth report less connectedness with their parents than their cisgender peers, increasing investment in programs offering support and guidance to parents of TGD youth and linking parents to existing supports (e.g., through health care, schools, religious institutions) may be effective ways to bolster the development of these caring relationships,” the authors concluded.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychiatrists Need to Prepare to Care for Gender-Variant Patients” and the Psychiatric Services article “Affirming Gender Identity of Patients With Serious Mental Illness.”

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