Trans and Non-Binary College Students at Higher Risk for Mental Health Problems

Transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming college students are at a disproportionately greater risk for mental health issues than their cisgender peers, according to a new study from Boston University’s School of Public Health.

A team led by Sarah Ketchen Lipson, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University, surveyed more than 65,000 students across 71 colleges and universities nationwide about their gender identity and mental health.

Of the 65,000 surveyed, about 1,2000 or less than two percent, identified as transgender or non-binary. However, this small portion of students were staggeringly more likely to experience mental health issues. Gender non-conforming students were found to be four times more likely to experience mental health problems than their cisgender peers.

“The magnitude of these disparities was enormous,” Lipson told NPR. “No matter which mental health outcome we were looking at, the gender minority population has significantly higher odds of having one of those mental health problems.”

The researchers looked at “depression symptoms, anxiety, eating disorders, non-suicidal self-injury, [and] suicidal ideation,” according to Lipson.

About 78 of gender minority students surveyed met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, compared to 45 percent of cisgender students. The study also found that 60 percent of trans and non-binary students screened positive for clinically significant depression, while only 28 percent of cisgender students did.

“Sadly, the findings of this very important research mirror what we are seeing among adolescent populations:,” Ellen Kahn, the Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships at Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Transgender and gender-expansive teens are much more likely than their cisgender peers to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges due to bias and stigma.”

Lipson said policymakers should act on these findings to prevent such high instances of mental health among gender minority youth.

“Mental health outcomes, as well negative educational outcomes like dropping out, are preventable,” she said. “The most effective way to prevent them would be, from my perspective, through policy changes. Inclusive policies are necessary to advance equity. And that’s what I really want these data to speak to.”