News

Transgender Individuals Face High Risk of Mental Health Issues, Studies Show

transgender woman with light shining across her face

 Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found that transgender individuals had a much higher rate of suicide probability if they lacked social support.
  • These conclusions are similar to other recent research that shows higher mental health risks for transgender people. 
  • In addition to having support from friends and family, it's crucial to find mental health professionals who understand transgender issues, experts note.

Transgender people have a higher risk of stigma associated with negative mental health issues, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Transgender Health. But, the researchers add, outcomes are improved through protective factors like the support of friends and family and a sense of belonging to a transgender community.

Looking at nearly 1,000 transgender people living in Aotearoa/New Zealand, researchers assessed a wide range of stressful experiences in addition to protective resources and relationships. They calculated probabilities that transgender individuals would exhibit very high psychological distress, pursue self-injury, or consider suicide.

The model showed that for those scoring high on stigma and low on protective factors, there was a 25% probability of attempting suicide in the previous year, compared to 3% for those scoring high on measures like social support.

A Growing Body of Evidence

Although the recent study focused only on transgender individuals in Aotearoa/New Zealand, similar concerns have been investigated in other research in the past few years as well.

In a study of over 50,000 college students in Norway, researchers found that those identifying as transgender reported significantly more psychosocial burdens, including:

  • Less life satisfaction
  • More loneliness
  • Struggles with mental health problems
  • Diagnosed mental disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide attempts
  • Incidents of self-harm

Research done in the U.S. between 2015 and 2017 that surveyed more than 65,000 college students from 71 institutions concluded that gender-nonconforming and transgender students are four times more likely to report mental health issues compared to their peers.

"The direction of these findings is not surprising, but the magnitude of the disparity is notable," says Sarah Ketchen Lipson, Ph.D., lead author of that study and assistant professor of health law, policy and management at Boston University. "We hope the scale of this research, and others like it, will help college administrators and the general public to be aware of the mental health disparities here."

Facing Uncertainty Around Identity

For some individuals, being uncertain about how they perceive their gender can impair mental health functionality, according to Leela Magavi, M.D., psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, a California-based mental health service.

"Imagine if your foundation is shaky, how this would affect your interactions with others, and ability to partake in almost any activity," she says. "Meanwhile, some individuals might be certain in regards to who they are, but their loved ones do not accept or support them. This could lead to the emergence of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts."

Leela Magavi, MD

Some individuals might be certain in regards to who they are, but their loved ones do not accept or support them. This could lead to the emergence of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

— Leela Magavi, MD

"Many suffer in silence or feel ostracized by people and communities they once trusted, she added. That can add to the mental health burden by feeling isolated. This year has brought other potential complications as well, says Magavi.

"During this time, many black LGBTQIA individuals, especially, are struggling with perpetuated, systemic racism and are wondering if they're in danger because of who they are," she states. "This lamentable truth necessitates physicians to advocate even more for all their LGBTQIA patients."

Finding Care

For transgender individuals and their families, Magavi recommends using a tool like the therapist database on psychologytoday.com and searching terms like "transgender" and "non-binary" to find specialists who are well versed in the issues that transgender and non-binary people face.

"Fluid and consistent communication allows LGBTQIA individuals the opportunity to speak about their anxieties, possible bullying, and other challenges," she says. "This can help ensure they feel safe and supported. Communication can be as simple as asking open-ended questions and actively listening."

What This Means For You

If you find yourself struggling with emotional and mental health challenges and experiencing signs of anxiety and/or depression talk primary care physician or another healthcare provider for appropriate referrals.

You may be able to do telehealth sessions with a therapist or counselor, even as a new patient. If you're having any thoughts of self-harm or suicide, help is available 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tan KKH, Treharne GJ, Ellis SJ, Schmidt JM, Veale JF. Enacted stigma experiences and protective factors are strongly associated with mental health outcomes of transgender people in Aotearoa/New ZealandInternational Journal of Transgender Health. Published online October 12, 2020:1-12. doi:10.1080/15532739.2020.1819504

  2. Anderssen N, Sivertsen B, Lønning KJ, Malterud K. Life satisfaction and mental health among transgender students in NorwayBMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):138. Published 2020 Jan 30. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-8228-5

  3. Lipson SK, Raifman J, Abelson S, Reisner SL. Gender minority mental health in the U.S.: Results of a national survey on college campusesAm J Prev Med. 2019;57(3):293-301. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2019.04.025