From the Journals

Suicidality risk high in transgender youth, varies by gender identity subtype


 

FROM PEDIATRICS

Transgender adolescents are more likely to report all types of lifetime suicidality risk than are their cisgender peers, and transgender youth as well as nonbinary adolescents assigned female at birth are at markedly high risk for suicidal ideation and attempt, new research suggests.

The study, which included more than 2,000 adolescents and was published in the October 14 issue of Pediatrics, provides new insights into suicide risk in gender identity subgroups, according to the investigators.

“Limited measures of gender identity may have led to inaccurate estimates of suicidality among transgender females in previous studies,” wrote Brian C. Thoma, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers noted that transgender females and nonbinary adolescents assigned male at birth are frequently combined in studies.

“However, our results indicate transgender females have higher risk for suicidal ideation and attempt compared with cisgender adolescents, whereas nonbinary adolescents assigned male at birth do not,” they wrote. “It is possible that estimates of suicidality that aggregate all transgender adolescents assigned male at birth into one group underestimate rates of suicidality among transgender females.”

The study, which analyzed results from a cross-sectional online survey from July to October 2018, was comprised of 2,020 adolescents, including 1,134 transgender adolescents.

The researchers divided respondents into seven categories: Cisgender males, cisgender females, transgender males, transgender females, nonbinary adolescents assigned female at birth, nonbinary adolescents assigned male at birth, and questioning gender identity. They then assessed non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and lifetime suicidality.

Compared to cisgender youth, transgender adolescents overall were more likely to report all outcomes: passive death wish (odds ratio [OR]=2.60), suicidal ideation (OR=2.20), suicide plan (OR=1.82), suicide attempt (OR=1.65), attempt requiring medical care (OR=2.01), and NSSI (OR=2.88).

Using cisgender males as reference after adjustment for all demographics, “cisgender females, transgender males, and nonbinary adolescents assigned female at birth had higher odds of each suicidality outcome” (OR= 1.49-5.85; OR=2.72-12.12; OR=1.84-8.59, respectively), the authors reported. “Transgender females had higher odds of each outcome [OR=2.73-6.30] except for suicide attempt requiring medical care. Nonbinary adolescents assigned male at birth had higher odds of suicide attempt requiring medical care [OR=10.13] and NSSI [OR=3.79]. Adolescents questioning their gender identity had higher odds of all outcomes [OR=3.23-7.59] except for suicide attempt.”

When compared to cisgender females as reference, however, only transgender males and transgender females had higher odds of suicidal ideation and attempts.

The overall findings were unsurprising since the higher rates of suicidality among transgender youth have already been documented, but the classification of participants was interesting, Gerald Montano, DO, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in an interview. Dr Montano was not involved in the study.

“It’s always been a challenge because, in the past, they always lumped transgender youth along with lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth,” Dr Montano said. This study is one of the few to go into more detail in considering participants’ gender identity, which was wise given that suicidal risk may differ accordingly.

The biggest take-home message of this study is the importance of screening for suicidality after informing adolescent patients of the limits of confidentiality, Dr Montano said.

“I think it’s very important for the physician to be aware of the reasons for those thoughts of suicide,” he continued. “A lot of it has to do with their gender identity and from discrimination and stigma from the general population.”

The research was funded by the University of Pittsburgh Central Research Development Fund and the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Thoma BC et al, Pediatrics, October 14, 2019. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2019-1183

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