Study shows transgender students are at significant risk for suicidal thoughts compared to non-transgender peers

Evidence indicates that school-based mental health services are urgently needed to protect against suicidal thoughts among transgender students.


Washington, DC, September 5, 2017

Nearly 35% of transgender youth in California reported suicidal thoughts in the past year, almost double that of non-transgender youth, reports a study published in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).

Transgender youth and adults have received unprecedented public attention regarding their lives and well-being in the last year. In the context of public debates about bathrooms, armed services, and other legal protections, there has been growing concern about discrimination and mental health for transgender youth in the US. Yet there has been little high-quality, population-based research on transgender youth, which is necessary to accurately document the health and well-being of this population.

This study is the first to use statewide representative data from the US to document significantly higher risk of suicidal thoughts among transgender students in California. Data came from over 910,000 high school students that participated in the 2013-2015 California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), and a weighted subsample of nearly 36,000 youth representative of the Californian student population. The CHKS is administered biennially by WestEd with support from the California Department of Education. Nearly 35% of transgender youth in California reported suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared to 19% among non-transgender youth. “It is crucial that studies of adolescent health include measures of gender identity alongside sexual orientation to better understand and create programs to address the needs of these youth across the United States,” said Amaya Perez-Brumer, MSc, lead author of the study.

The study also reports that higher rates of depression and victimization among transgender youth compared to non-transgender youth partly explain higher risk of suicidal thoughts among transgender students. According to Stephen Russell, PhD, another study author: “Like all students, transgender youth deserve to be safe and supported at school. These results show that reducing depression and victimization for transgender students should significantly reduce their suicide-related risk.”

The authors underscore that the results of the study should be understood as a first step in detailing the complexity of suicidal thoughts among transgender youth. While findings support the need for school-based interventions that address depression and victimization, more research is also needed to understand the relationship between co-occurring psychosocial risk factors (e.g., anxiety, substance abuse) and suicidal thoughts. The authors also caution that these results may represent an underestimate of the gender identity-related disparity in suicidal thoughts given that the sample was limited to youth who were currently attending school in California; youth who have been expelled or dropped out of school may be a more vulnerable population at risk of suicidality.

Notably, while transgender-specific mental health services are scarce and often inaccessible for adults, this barrier is often magnified among youth. This study highlights the urgent need to develop and implement school-based interventions that address victimization, train faculty and staff on the needs of transgender youth, and provide access to gender-affirming healthcare and mental health services.

---

Notes for editors
The article is "Prevalence and Correlates of Suicidal Ideation Among Transgender Youth in California: Findings From a Representative, Population-Based Sample of High School Students," by Amaya Perez-Brumer, Jack K. Day, Stephen T. Russell, and Mark L. Hatzenbuehler (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2017.06.010). It appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, volume 56, issue 9 (September 2017), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Mary Billingsley at mbillingsley@aacap.org or +1 202 587 9672. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Amaya Perez-Brumer, MSc, Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, at agp2133@cumc.columbia.edu, or Stephen T. Russell, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, at stephen.russell@utexas.edu.

About JAACAP
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families. www.jaacap.org

The Journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The Journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 35,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

Mary Billingsley
JAACAP Editorial Office
+1 202 587 9672
mbillingsley@aacap.org