Background: Few population-based studies have compared the mental health of gender minority and cisgender adolescents.
Aims: To compare reports of psychological distress, behavioural and emotional difficulties, self-harm and suicide attempts between gender minority and cisgender adolescents.
Method: Data came from the Millennium Cohort Study (n = 10 247), a large nationally representative birth cohort in the UK. At a 17-year follow-up, we assessed gender identity, psychological distress (Kessler K6 scale), behavioural and emotional difficulties (parent and child reports on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), self-harm in the previous year, suicide attempts, substance use, and victimisation including harassment and physical and sexual assaults. Multivariable modified Poisson and linear regression models were used. Attenuation after the inclusion of victimisation and substance use was used to explore mediation.
Results: Of the 10 247 participants, 113 (1.1%) reported that they were a gender minority. Gender minority participants reported more psychological distress (coefficient 5.81, 95% CI 4.87-6.74), behavioural and emotional difficulties (child report: coefficient 5.60; 95% CI 4.54-6.67; parent/carer report: coefficient 2.60; 95% CI 1.47-3.73), self-harm including cutting or stabbing (relative risk (RR) 4.38; 95% CI 3.55-5.40), burning (RR 3.81; 95% CI 2.49-5.82), taking an overdose (RR 5.25; 95% CI 3.35-8.23) and suicide attempts (RR 3.42; 95% CI 2.45-4.78) than cisgender youth. These associations were partially explained by differences in exposure to victimisation.
Conclusions: Gender minority adolescents experience a disproportionate burden of mental health problems. Policies are needed to reduce victimisation and services should be adapted to better support the mental health of gender minority adolescents.