Transgender students struggle with mental health issues, survey shows

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Ann Schimke on June 21, 2016

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Colorado are more likely to plan or attempt suicide than their peers, according to results of a biennial health survey released this week.

While past surveys have revealed similarly worrisome results for high school-age gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, this is the first year data on transgender students is available. And based on several indicators, that group faces formidable mental health challenges.

For example, transgender students were the most likely to use all types of drugs during high school and experience bullying at school or electronically. In addition, nearly half of that group had considered suicide during the previous year and just over one-third attempted it.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which last year sparked controversy at the State Board of Education, paints a picture of how Colorado middle- and high-schoolers are doing healthwise.

The results come about a year after a flap that prompted some parents and State Board of Education members to raise concerns about the explicit nature of some survey questions, the method for obtaining parent permission and student data privacy. The controversy eventually died down and the survey was given as planned to about 17,000 students last fall, though some districts tightened their policies for communicating with parents about the survey.

Below are other highlights from the survey results:

  • About 38 percent of Colorado high school students have tried marijuana. That’s about the same rate as students nationally, even with the drug legalized for recreational use in Colorado.
  • Fewer Colorado teens are having sex compared to their peers nationally.
  • School engagement—as measured by things like extracurricular involvement and school-skipping—is generally lower for Hispanic students than peers of other races or ethnicities.
  • White students are more likely to drink alcohol and report that it’s easy to get.
  • White and Asian student report the lowest levels of obesity, while Native Americans reported the highest.
  • African-American and Asian students are least likely to smoke cigarettes or vapor products.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo credit: Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat