UCLA survey finds transgender adults face disparities in mental health
The UCLA Williams Institute, which is part of the UCLA School of Law, released results from its statewide public health survey Tuesday. The institute conducts research on LGBTQ public policy. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Emi Nakahara
November 3, 2017 1:11 am
UCLA researchers found transgender adults are more likely to attempt suicide and more often delay taking prescribed medication than adults who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Researchers at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released data from their statewide public health survey Tuesday. They surveyed more than 42,000 Californians from 2015 to 2016 on various public health trends, including mental health and access to health insurance.
From the data, researchers estimate 92,000 individuals aged between 18 and 70, or 0.35 percent of the state’s adult population, identify as transgender. The reported mean age of transgender adults is 41.9.
Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher who conducted the survey, said she thinks the data collected is more comprehensive than previous LGBTQ surveys because it was the first statewide survey that included transgender individuals by asking what gender the person was assigned at birth and what gender they currently identify as.
L. Wynholds, an information studies doctoral student who studies transgender-related issues, said the data could lead to public policy change and further research on transgender issues.
“For so many years, there was no data available (on transgender individuals),” Wynholds said. “Now we actually have data to work on and send to the state and federal governments.”
Wilson added prior transgender research studies have already identified some of the observed trends in the Williams Institute study, including higher rates of suicidal thoughts and psychological distress in transgender individuals.
“We know transgender people have the same factors for suicide as cisgender people – depression, environmental issues, familial issues,” she said. “But transgender people have added risks, one of which is experiencing discrimination and stigma.”
The survey also reported transgender adults are three times more likely to delay obtaining or not obtain needed medicine prescribed by a doctor, compared with cisgender adults.
Jody Herman, a researcher at the Williams Institute who also conducted the survey, said transgender individuals face barriers in accessing health care.
“Many health care providers are unable to interact in respectful, knowledgeable ways,” she said. “There is a limited number of providers who can monitor or provide hormone care and surgical procedures (for transgender adults).”
Wilson said unlike other research studies, their survey found that transgender adults are more likely to be white. Other research studies on transgender individuals showed transgender adults were more likely to be persons of color.
“We’re not really sure why,” she said. “It’s interesting to acknowledge, but we will ask the question again in following studies.”
Wynholds said the study’s small sample size could explain why the survey found that a larger proportion of transgender individuals were white.
Herman said the survey showed transgender individuals also reported similar socio-economic statuses as cisgender individuals, which was not shown by previous studies.
She added said she thinks the mental health disparities between transgender and cisgender adults reported in the survey suggest California is similar to other states in not providing adequate health care for transgender individuals, even though the state has enacted policies to support transgender individuals, such as labeling all single-stall bathrooms as gender neutral.
“In spite of California’s protective climate, we still see mental health disparities, showing that there is still work to be done,” Herman said.