Analysis of psychiatric symptoms and suicide risk among younger adults in China by gender identity and sexual orientation
Sun, S., Xu, S., Guy, A., Guigayoma, J., Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., ... & Chen, R.
Importance Younger adults in China who are transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) and lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) experience high levels of minority stress (eg, stigma and bullying) and adverse mental health symptoms. However, there is a lack of research documenting mental health disparities compared with their cisgender and heterosexual peers. Studies that disaggregate TGNC and LGB individuals and are conducted in nonmetropolitan regions are also needed. Objectives To examine whether younger adult students’ psychiatric symptoms and suicide risk vary by sexual orientation and gender identity and identify risk factors within LGB younger adults and TGNC younger adults. Design, Setting, and Participants This cross-sectional study surveyed students at 63 universities in Jilin Province, China, between October 24 and November 18, 2021. Analyses were completed May 6, 2022. Exposures Gender identity (TGNC vs cisgender) and sexual orientation (LGB vs heterosexual). Main Outcomes and Measures Psychiatric outcomes included depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), which were measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7, Trauma Screening Questionnaire, and self-reported NSSI behaviors. The Suicide Behaviors Questionnaire–Revised was used to assess suicide risk. Results The analytic sample included 89 342 younger adults (mean [SD] age, 19.60 [1.75] years), including 51 438 assigned female at birth and 37 904 assigned male at birth. The sample included 2352 individuals who were TGNC, 6501 who were cisgender LGB, and 80 489 who were cisgender heterosexual. Compared with their cisgender heterosexual peers, TGNC and LGB younger adults were more likely to experience increased psychiatric symptoms across categories and suicide risk, as well as more severe forms of symptoms. In particular, overall suicide risk was 43.03% among TGNC individuals, 36.21% among LGB individuals, and 11.70% among cisgender heterosexual younger adults. Controlling for demographic variables and compared with cisgender heterosexual peers, TGNC young adults had higher odds of suicide risk (adjusted odds ratio, 5.38; 95% CI, 4.94-5.86; P < .001) and of past-year NSSI (adjusted odds ratio, 6.55; 95% CI, 5.87-7.30; P < .001). Separate within-group analyses for LGB and TGNC younger adults highlighted the vulnerability of bisexual women and gender nonbinary groups, as well as the relevance of minority stress-related risk factors, including peer bullying and assault and loneliness. Conclusions and Relevance This study noted disparities of mental health issues among LGB, transgender, or queer or questioning younger adults in China and suggests a high urgency to address psychological health and prevent suicide in this population. Targeted public health initiatives may be needed to reduce stigma and discrimination, train competent health care professionals, and create affirmative mental health policies and systems of care.