How Well Do Various Types of Support Buffer Psychological Distress Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students?

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International Journal of Transgenderism







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Background: Transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) individuals experience an increased prevalence of many psychological disorders, leading many to reach out for support from family, friends, mental health professionals, and religious or community networks. Nonetheless, experiences seeking support are often negative, and many psychotherapists report feeling underprepared to work with TGNC clients. To better understand the experiences of TGNC individuals and better equip psychotherapists in their work with TGNC clients, we investigate which sources of support most successfully buffer psychological distress among TGNC individuals. Aims: This study aims to identify differences in levels of various types of support (social, family, religious, and living-situation) between cisgender and TGNC individuals and examine how these types of support may or may not buffer psychological distress among TGNC individuals. Method: We used a United States national sample of 3,090 students (1,030 cisgender men; 1,030 cisgender women; 349 transgender; 681 endorsing another gender identity) from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2012–2015 database which provided basic demographic information through the Standardized Data Set. Psychological distress was measured through the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms 34-item questionnaire. Results: TGNC individuals reported more distress, less family support, more social support, and less frequent religious affiliation than cisgender men and women. Family and social support emerged as the strongest predictors of distress for both TGNC and cisgender individuals. Though religious affiliation and living on-campus buffered distress among cisgender students, they did not buffer distress among TGNC students. Conclusion: Our study highlights disparities in distress and support between TGNC and cisgender individuals. We found that although religious affiliation and on-campus living are beneficial for cisgender students, neither systematically buffers distress for TGNC students. These findings illustrate the impact minority stress and systemic discrimination may have on TGNC individuals and provide suggestions for therapeutic intervention in work with TGNC individuals.