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It’s never been more important to understand and address the unique challenges facing transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) students, raise awareness about support available to them on- and off-campus, and prioritize equitable health and well-being resources that embrace their backgrounds, identities, and experiences.
According to a recent poll from The Trevor Project, 86% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNC) youth say recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health. The same poll found that TGNC youth report having a range of harmful experiences such as bullying or cyberbullying, no longer speaking with family members or friends, and physical assaults as a result. When it comes to seeking healthcare, nearly one-third of trans youth report not feeling safe to go to the doctor or hospital when they are sick or injured.
Sadly, higher rates of stress, anxiety, and suicidality among TGNC youth are not new. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that 82% of transgender individuals have considered death by suicide, and 40% have attempted suicide, with the risk being highest among transgender youth. In a study of rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, suicidal ideation, health issues, and suicidality of gender-nonconforming people from 71 colleges and universities, 78% met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, with nearly 60% screening positive for clinically-significant depression, compared to 28% of cisgender students.
Challenges transgender college students face on campus
All students should have the right to pursue their education free of harassment, discrimination, victimization, or violence. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case on every college or university campus. These issues often affect transgender students throughout their academic journey. Depending on their circumstances and environment, these challenges often include:
- Bathroom, shower, and gym access
- Residence hall placements
- Sports participation
- Gender identification and correct name on documents
- Access to grants and scholarships
- Use of student services
- Use of medical services
- Pronoun and correct name usage
Individually, these challenges can be difficult to experience. But they also add up, making it difficult for transgender individuals to complete their education. A review of research on trans students’ experiences in higher education conducted by the UCLA Williams Institute found that TGNC college students face discrimination and harassment, which can harm their academic performance and retention. The U.S. Transgender Survey found that 24% of trans adults in college experienced harassment, 16% of whom dropped out of school.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the oldest national legal organization whose mission is to support gender diversity and provide protections for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people, supports the Williams Institute’s findings that many colleges and universities do not adequately support TGNC students’ identities. From denying TGNC students appropriate housing, restrooms, and locker rooms to failing to remove hurdles for changing legal names and gender markers on student records, the organization cites the State of Higher Education for LGBTQ survey which found that over a third of TGNC students considered leaving their institution due to the difficult environment.
Take proactive measures to support transgender college students' mental health journeys
How higher ed institutions can support the mental health and well-being of transgender students
Higher education institutions can help support transgender health and well-being by reducing or eliminating physical and invisible barriers facing TGNC students, making a safe, welcoming, and equitable college experience. Some of these steps include:
Providing gender-inclusive restrooms and facilities
Offering gender-neutral restrooms and other facilities can help alleviate the stress and anxiety that TGNC students may feel when using gender-segregated spaces. At Virginia Tech, the school’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center features a map of all gender-neutral/all-gender restrooms on the campus.
Respecting correct names and pronouns
Providing access to gender-affirming health care
Access to gender-affirming health care can be a critical aspect of the mental health and well-being of transgender students. One example is The Claremont Colleges, which provides gender-affirming care in its clinic. This type of care can include counseling services, gender-affirming resources, and support for hormone therapy and gender-confirmation surgery. Providing comprehensive health insurance coverage or campus health care that includes access to gender-affirming health care can be a significant benefit to transgender students who may otherwise struggle to access these essential resources. The Trevor Project’s 2023 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Project found that 56% of LGBTQ young people who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it, and this number included nearly 3 in 5 transgender and nonbinary young people. Conversely, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network’s study of TGNC youth highlights the positive mental health impact of gender-affirming care, with reported 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality over a 12-month follow-up.
Offering support groups and counseling services
Many TGNC students experience mental health challenges related to their gender identity, including depression, anxiety, and gender dysphoria. Providing access to counseling services and support groups can help students manage these challenges and find a sense of community and belonging. These services should be staffed by mental health professionals who have experience working with transgender clients. Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center connects students to mentors and community, with counseling resources embedded in the center. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Project found that, in comparison to those who did not have access, LGBTQ+ college students with access to mental health services from their college had 84% lower odds of attempting suicide.
Creating opportunities for transgender students to connect
Building a sense of community and connection among TGNC students can be a powerful way to support their mental health and well-being. This can include creating social events, clubs, and organizations that are specifically for TGNC community members. It can also involve providing mentorship programs that connect incoming TGNC students with peers or alumni. For students at the University of Virginia, its LGBTQ Center hosts events each week, providing opportunities for students to connect and build community.
Training staff and faculty on transgender issues
Ensuring that staff and faculty are knowledgeable about transgender issues and are equipped to provide support, advocacy, and sexual health education to TGNC students is a critical component of creating an inclusive, supportive, and culturally competent campus environment. Training can include information on how to use correct names and pronouns, how to address discrimination and harassment, and how to provide resources for transgender students who need additional support. At Elon University, its Gender & LGBTQIA Center offers presentations and trainings on gender and sexual identity topics, allyship, or gender violence prevention. George Mason University’s Safe Zone+ Program helps create a safer, inclusive campus environment to strengthen the community toward the goal of supporting the well-being of LGBTQ people.
Addressing discrimination and harassment with clear policies and procedures
Providing students with clear instructions for how to report bias and discrimination, as Northwestern University does for its students, is a key step. Addressing these issues head-on with clear policies and procedures for reporting incidents and following up with consequences for those who violate these policies is essential in establishing a campus as one that is supportive and inclusive for TGNC students. At Dutchess Community College, its LGBTQIA+ of DCC Committee promotes and lobbies for policies, procedures, and practices that improve the well-being and quality of life for LGBTQIA+ communities and offers recommendations and suggestions for enhancements.
Virtual care can help deliver inclusive health and well-being resources to TGNC students
New research published by Telemedicine and e-Health found that telehealth is a key aspect in expanding access to care for TGNC students, ensuring they receive the care they need when they need it. The research analyzed data from visits with health care providers before the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2019 – February 2020) without telehealth as an option and during the pandemic (April 2020 – February 2021) when telehealth was an option for those seeking care. During the pandemic, 52% of visits were virtual, which had higher completion rates (72%) than in-person visits (50%). Further, cancellation rates were also lower for telehealth visits (21%) compared to in-person visits (46%). While it was noted that additional studies needed to be done, researchers concluded that telehealth during the pandemic supported access to care for transgender and gender-diverse youth.
TimelyCare, the leading virtual health and well-being solution for higher education, offers a whole-student solution that includes support for TGNC college students and the health disparities they face. With experience in providing gender-affirming care and meeting the unique needs of TGNC students, TimelyCare’s telehealth program ensures students have 24/7 access to quality care and immediate treatment for medical and mental health concerns. Delivering inclusive, evidence-based care that is effective, timely, and relevant to each person’s lived experience, including trans and non-binary students, is part of TimelyCare’s commitment to inclusion.
Additionally, through TimelyCare’s partnership with Violet, a full-suite health equity platform, care providers go through Violet’s cultural competence upskilling program to deliver improved identity-centered care for BIPOC, LGBQ, and TGNC patients. Working with Violet furthers TimelyCare’s dedication to providing on-demand, equitable access to care that embraces the background, identities, and lived experiences of every student served.
Contact TimelyCare today to learn more about how our virtual care solution can improve mental health and support students’ overall well-being.
Support services for transgender students beyond campus
Adequate support for TGNC students can make the difference between thriving and struggling in higher education. Many public health organizations offer support services for TGNC college students (e.g., medical care, psychiatry, social services, substance use counseling, etc.). These resources include:
- The Trevor Project
A national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth, including transgender students. They provide a 24/7 hotline (886-4-U-Trevor), an online instant messaging option (TrevorChat), text-based support (TrevorText), and peer support (TrevorSpace).
- Trans Lifeline
This trans-run nonprofit organization offers emotional and financial support to trans people who are in crisis. It offers a hotline specifically for transgender people as well as one dedicated to friends and family of transgender people (877-565-8860).
- Campus Pride
A nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer students.
- Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER)
A youth-led organization that provides resources, community, and advocacy for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
- Transgender Law Center
Transgender Law Center is the largest national trans-led organization advocating self-determination for all people. It can help institutions and individuals navigate any legal barriers to higher education, provide resources, and other support.
- Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
A national organization that provides support and resources to parents, families, and allies of LGBTQ+ individuals, including transgender youth.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)
A nonprofit organization that advocates for policy change to advance gender expression and transgender equality.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The lifeline is available by calling 988.
While these are just a few examples of nationwide organizations that provide support for TGNC students, there are additional national organizations, such as The Jed Foundation (JED), Active Minds, and Born This Way Foundation, that support transgender college students and students struggling with their gender identity.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, The Crisis & Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States by calling or texting 988. Click here to find additional ways to connect.