High rates of suicide and self-harm among transgender youth

In a new study 30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting.

Earlier this year, a study determined the number of transgender Americans might be double that of previous estimates. Based on state and general survey data, researchers concluded about 1.4 million people identify as transgender, accounting for about 0.6% of the population.

While little work has been done to interrogate this relationship at a conceptual level, there are some clinical studies that potentially have something to offer. Clinicians working with transgender and gender non-conforming youth have repeatedly reported on the risk of, and instances of, self-harm in connection with the distress that can be associated with gender non-conformity, uncertainty about gender identity, or gender transition.

In a new study, 30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting. The study also discovered a higher frequency of suicide attempts among transgender youth who are dissatisfied with their weight.

The researchers analyzed data from the medical records of 96 transgender patients, ages 12 to 22, with gender dysphoria visiting the Transgender Health Clinic at Cincinnati Children's. The clinic has served nearly 500 patients since it opened in 2013.

Fifty-eight percent had at least one additional psychiatric diagnosis in addition to gender dysphoria. Nearly 63 percent indicated a history of bullying, 23.1 percent a history of school suspension or expulsion, 19.3 percent involvement in physical fights and 17.1 percent repeating a grade in school.

Commenting on the study Dr. Claire Peterson, who led the research explains: “Our study provides further evidence for the at-risk nature of transgender youth and emphasizes that mental health providers and physicians working with this population need to be aware of these challenges."

Dr. Peterson added: “Dissatisfaction with one's appearance and the drive to look different from one's sex assigned at birth is central to gender dysphoria — the feeling that your gender identity is different from that at birth."

The Cincinnati Children's researchers hope that additional studies will shed more light on the relations among weight concerns, eating disorders, self-injury and suicidal behaviors.

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