Transgender and gender diverse (TGD) individuals, who have a gender identity that differs from their sex assigned at birth, are at increased risk of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self-injurious behavior, and suicidality, relative to cisgender peers.
To examine mental health outcomes among TGD vs cisgender adolescents in residential treatment.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This cohort study’s longitudinal design was used to compare groups at treatment entry and discharge, and 1-month postdischarge follow-up. The setting was an adolescent acute residential treatment program for psychiatric disorders. Participants were TGD or cisgender adolescents enrolled in the treatment program. Statistical analysis was performed October 2019 to March 2021.
Adolescents participated in a 2-week acute residential treatment program for psychiatric disorders.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Primary outcomes were depressive (the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale [CES-D]) and anxiety (the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children [MASC]) symptoms, and emotional dysregulation (the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale [DERS]), measured at treatment entry and discharge, and postdischarge follow-up. Age of depression onset, suicidality, self-injury, and childhood trauma also were assessed at treatment entry.
Of 200 adolescent participants who completed treatment entry and discharge assessments, the mean (SD) age was 16.2 (1.5) years; 109 reported being assigned female at birth (54.5%), 35 were TGD (17.5%), and 66 (49.3%) completed 1-month follow-up. TGD participants had an earlier mean (SD) age of depression onset (TGD: 10.8 [2.4] years vs cisgender: 11.9 [2.3] years; difference: 1.07 years; 95% CI, 0.14-2.01 years; P = .02), higher mean (SD) suicidality scores (TGD: 44.4 [23.1] vs cisgender: 28.5 [25.4]; difference: 16.0; 95% CI, 6.4-25.5; P = .001), more self-injurious behavior (mean [SD] RBQ-A score for TGD: 3.1 [2.5] vs cisgender: 1.7 [1.9]; difference: 1.42; 95% CI, 0.69-2.21; P = .001) and more childhood trauma (eg, mean [SD] CTQ-SF score for emotional abuse in TGD: 12.7 [5.4] vs cisgender: 9.8 [4.7]; difference: 2.85; 95% CI, 1.06-4.64; P = .002). The TGD group also had higher symptom scores (CES-D mean difference: 7.69; 95% CI, 3.30 to 12.08; P < .001; MASC mean difference: 7.56; 95% CI, 0.46 to 14.66; P = .04; and DERS mean difference: 18.43; 95% CI, 8.39 to 28.47; P < .001). Symptom scores were significantly higher at entry vs discharge (CES-D mean difference, −12.16; 95% CI, −14.50 to −9.80; P < .001; MASC mean difference: −3.79; 95% CI, −6.16 to −1.42; P = .02; and DERS mean difference: −6.37; 95% CI, −10.80 to −1.94; P = .05) and follow-up (CES-D mean difference: −9.69; 95% CI, −13.0 to −6.42; P < .001; MASC mean difference: −6.92; 95% CI, −10.25 to −3.59; P < .001; and DERS mean difference: −12.47; 95% CI, −18.68 to −6.26; P < .001).
Conclusions and Relevance
This cohort study found mental health disparities in TGD youth relative to cisgender youth, with worse scores observed across assessment time points. For all participants, primary clinical outcome measures were significantly lower at treatment discharge than at entry, with no significant differences between discharge and 1-month follow-up. Given the substantial degree of mental health disparities reported in TGD individuals, these findings warrant focused clinical attention to optimize treatment outcomes in gender minority populations.