Local researchers study mental health issues that face transgender teens

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For young people with questions about their gender identity, the journey can be a difficult one, filled with anxiety, confusion and depression.

Those issues prompted local researchers with Kaiser Permanente to study the impact and mental health implications that face many LGBTQ youth.

Much of Sleet Havenear's young life was filled with confusion, questions, sadness and fear.

"I didn't learn that I was trans until I was about 16 or 17," Sleet said. "Going into a public restroom and sitting in a stall and just praying that nobody comes in ... I didn't know how to talk to any people. I was just like socially awkward, shy."

This constant fear led to an anxiety disorder diagnosis. In high school, Sleet learned what it meant to be transgender but wished support and help could have been offered earlier.

"There would be less sad kids," Sleet said.
A new Kaiser Permanente study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, depression and other mental health conditions in transgender youth between the ages of 3 to 17. Investigators found these youth were 3 to 13 times more likely to have a mental health condition compared to those who identified with their gender.

"It's specifically from the social pressures or gender dysphoria, meaning they're experiencing distress with the person they see in the mirror and do not identify with the person they see," said Kaiser researcher Tracy Becerra-Culqui.

As more youth identify as transgender, researchers say it's important to understand the magnitude of these health problems as it can lead to better management of these conditions.

"It's important for parents to understand what's going on with their children, especially if they're isolating or displaying problem behaviors. They can help with early intervention," Becerra-Culqui said.
Sleet feels much of the anxiety and confusion experienced was justified.

"The world is hard for trans people, let's be honest," Sleet said.

Sleet hopes research like this helps raise awareness among pediatricians, teachers and parents so that fewer kids will suffer.

"If I learned about it sooner, things would be different," Sleet said.
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