Dispelling the myths about mental health and the transgender community

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By Sarah Stanley

There’s an image of the transgender community as one riddled with anxiety, confusion and depression as a result of their gender identity.  Now, a recent study on transgender children indicates that gender identity doesn’t dictate mental illness.

Kristina Olson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, sought to discover how transgender children related to their peers in terms of anxiety, depression and resoluteness of their gender identity.

She studied 73 children between the ages of 3 and 12. The parents of these children answered questions regarding their child’s symptoms of anxiety or depression during the past week. The findings were clear—transgender children were not more likely to be anxious than their peers.

Additionally, Olson dispelled ideas about gender identity confusion. In a study of 32 transgender children between the ages of 5 and 12, she found that their identity was actually deeply rooted and not just a passing phase, as some parents tend to view such gender variance. Olson believes that the longevity of these studies is important for parents as children challenging their biological gender has become more prevalent.

“Seeing how little scientific information there was, basically nothing for parents, was hard to watch,” Olson said. “Doctors were saying, ‘We just don’t know,’ so the parents have to make these really big decisions: Should I let my kid go to school as a girl, or should I make my kid go to school as a boy? Should my child be in therapy to try to change what she says she is, or should she be supported?”

Because of her studies, we now know that the key factor in raising a trans child is acceptance. With the proliferation of suicides and bullying associated with being transgender, it is important to bring a new frame of reference to this misunderstood part of self-identity. Increased knowledge of the topic will make parents and peers more accepting of the child’s self-proclaimed gender.

Olson intends to expand the study and observe how acceptance as children translates to success as an adult.

“We have absolutely no idea what their lives will look like, because there are very few transgender adults today who lived as young kids expressing their gender identity,” Olson said. “That’s all the more reason why this particular generation is important to study.”

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