Teen life is tough enough with all of its peer pressure, social media stressors, academic demands, and propensity for family discord. That's a lot for anyone to handle. Could life possibly get any tougher? Well, yes, it could. Imagine what life must be like for a transgender teen.
From Bullying to Violence, No Lack of Trouble for Transgender Teens
In addition to "typical teen traumas," transgender adolescents face the additional emotional and physical hurdles of bullying, harassment, rejection, threats, victimization, and violence directly resulting from their gender identity.
In 2020 alone, at least 44 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals were murdered - the most since Human Rights Campaign (HRC) began tracking this data in 2013. There is no data to suggest how many of these murders were designated as hate crimes. But HRC, which has documented more than 200 deaths over the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020, acknowledges that the victims were killed by a combination of acquaintances, partners, and strangers and that some "involve clear anti-transgender bias."
In February, for example, a Pennsylvania mother killed her two children, including a 16-
year-old trans boy and his 22-year-old nonbinary sibling. These are but two of 28 transgender/gender-nonconforming murders committed less than six months into 2021 - a pace projected to easily surpass 2020's record of 44.
HRC adds that in some cases the victims' transgender status "may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work."
As information like this filters back to transgender teens, it contributes to their heightened sense of anxiety and fear, and begs the question: How are these individuals able to cope when exposed to so much bias, prejudice, and hate?
Trans Teens Turning to Alcohol to Cope
More than half of transgender teens - or gender minority (GM) adolescents - begin engaging in substance use as a means of enduring the stressors they face during their young lives. This conclusion is based on data from a study that was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
This isn't to suggest that many teens - transgender or otherwise - don't use or experiment with tobacco, marijuana, or alcohol. Many do. But the report, written by Sabra L. Katz-Wise of Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medicine School and her colleagues, attributes greater emotional distress among GM youth to a higher likelihood of alcohol use than that of their cisgender (those who identify with biological birth gender) counterparts.
Previous research indicated that substance use was 2½ to 4 times higher for GM youth than cisgender youth.
Meanwhile, the current study examined the longitudinal effects of GM stressors in three areas:
Substance use in GM adolescents
Related risk factors such as internalized transphobia, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms
Protective factors such as resilience, gender-related pride, family functioning, social support, and gender-related community connectedness
Participants in the study included 33 GM adolescents, ages 13-17, from the community-based longitudinal Trans Teen and Family Narratives Project. Each participant completed an online survey every six months - five in all - over a two-year period, staggered from 2015 to 2019.
At the outset of the study, 17% of the participants reported any kind of substance use: tobacco, marijuana, or alcohol. Two years later, at the conclusion of the study, the number of participants reporting any kind of substance use had more than tripled to 56%.
Interestingly, higher exposure to GM stressors significantly increased the likelihood of trans teens engaging in alcohol use - but not tobacco or marijuana use. The study including no data regarding drug or opioid use.
Support from Family and Friends Can Help
Fortunately, there are factors that can mitigate the stressors that might otherwise lead to increased alcohol use. One is family functioning, which includes supportive structural, relational, and social properties associated with the family unit. The other is social support. However, these protective factors - as they relate to alcohol use - were found to be effective at lower levels of GM stress, but not at higher levels.
Researchers concluded that future interventions with GM adolescents should focus on addressing internalized transphobia while strengthening resilience, gender-related pride, and family functioning as measures to combat substance use.
"A study conducted by our team found better family functioning was associated with less self-harm and depressive/anxious symptoms, and greater self-esteem and resiliency among GM adolescents," the study's authors wrote.
Internalized transphobia, resilience, and gender-related pride were found to be the most significant mediators of associations between GM stressors and substance use.
"Since GM adolescents appear to be using substances to cope with exposure to gender minority stressors, programs could assist adolescents in identifying adaptive coping strategies in response to such stressors," the report states. "GM adolescents should also be connected to resources where they can connect with other GM adolescents. Efforts on a macro-level to increase anti-discrimination policies and laws and decrease stigma toward GM individuals may ultimately improve the lives of GM adolescents by reducing exposure to gender minority stressors."
InSync EHR Software Relieves Stress for Mental Health Practices
The secret to relieving anxiety is to first identify stressors and pain points that are the source of the anxiety. Only then - after identifying the cause - can you begin to find solutions.
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Mental Health EHR System Snapshot
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Human Rights Campaign: Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community is 2021