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Peer Support Lowers Distress in Transgender People, Nursing-Led Study Finds

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A national study of transgender people finds peer support, family support and pride in transgender identity, are among the protective factors for the clinical depression and anxiety often experienced by this population.

The national online study shows transgender individuals experience particularly high rates of psychological distress associated with the social stigma attached to their gender nonconformity.

The study is published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

"While peer support has generally been encouraged in clinical work, what has not been demonstrated until now is that it can actually make an important difference by buffering the impact of discrimination on mental health related to being transgender," said Walter O. Bockting, PhD, lead author of the study, and a Professor at Columbia University School of Nursing and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  

Bockting is also co-director of the newly established LGBT Health Initiative in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.

The study demonstrates individuals' mental health distress was associated with stigma.

Among the 1093 transgender individuals whose data was analyzed:

  • 44.1% rated high on depression;
  • 33.2% rated high on anxiety; and
  • 27.5% on somatization, i.e., physical symptoms with a psychological cause.

The researchers found that, as they had hypothesized, "family support, peer support, and identity pride all were negatively associated with psychological distress, confirming these assets are protective factors."

"This provides the first empirical basis for clinicians to encourage peer support, and for social service and health organizations to provide avenues for peer support, such as offline or online support groups and group therapy," Bockting says.

"In addition, interventions, advocacy and public policy initiatives are needed to confront social structures, norms and attitudes that produce stress associated with stigma, prejudice and discrimination so that the high rates of psychological distress found among transgender populations can be reduced." 

For more information, visit: www.nursing.columbia.edu.


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