Childhood gender nonconformity, bullying victimization, and depressive symptoms across adolescence and early adulthood: an 11-year longitudinal study

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;52(2):143-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.11.006. Epub 2012 Dec 28.


Objective: Childhood gender nonconformity has been associated with increased risk of caregiver abuse and bullying victimization outside the home, but it is unknown whether as a consequence children who are nonconforming are at higher risk of depressive symptoms.

Method: Using data from a large national cohort (N = 10,655), we examined differences in depressive symptoms from ages 12 through 30 years by gender nonconformity before age 11 years. We examined the prevalence of bullying victimization by gender nonconformity, then ascertained whether increased exposure to abuse and bullying accounted for possible increased risk of depressive symptoms. We further compared results stratified by sexual orientation.

Results: Participants in the top decile of childhood gender nonconformity were at elevated risk of depressive symptoms at ages 12 through 30 years (for females, 0.19 standard deviations more depressive symptoms than conforming females; for males, 0.34 standard deviations more symptoms than conforming males). By ages 23 to 30 years, 26% of participants in the top decile of childhood nonconformity had probable mild or moderate depression versus 18% of participants who were conforming (p<.001). Abuse and bullying victimization accounted for approximately half the increased prevalence of depressive symptoms in youth who were nonconforming versus conforming. Gender-nonconforming heterosexuals and males were at particularly elevated risk for depressive symptoms.

Conclusion: Gender nonconformity was a strong predictor of depressive symptoms beginning in adolescence, particularly among males and heterosexuals. Physical and emotional bullying and abuse, both inside and outside the home, accounted for much of this increased risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / psychology
  • Child Abuse* / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime Victims* / psychology
  • Crime Victims* / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression* / diagnosis
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Depression* / etiology
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Heterosexuality / psychology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • United States