Big increase in hospital visits for children questioning their gender identity

1:25 min

There has been a rapid increase of children and youths who seek out healthcare for so-called gender dysphoria, the feeling of being uncomfortable with one's gender.

Louise Frisén, a medical doctor in child in adolescent psychiatry at Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital in Solna, said that when the service at Astrid Lindgren - the only center in Sweden that serves children who are under the age of 16 with gender dysphoria - they only had one or two cases per year. In 2013 they had 30 referrals and last year they had 50. This year they estimate they will have seen 100 cases. Patients are typically 16 and 17, said Frisén, but sometimes parents of younger children visit the hospital.

Australia, Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, and the other Nordic countries have reported similar increases, and nobody is saying for sure why there is an increase.

How does gender dysphoria manifest in children?

"In small children it's often first manifested by an extreme gender atypical behavior," said Frisén. "small children seldom say 'I belong to the other sex,' although that sometimes happens. They say to parents for example 'I don't belong in this body,' 'this is not my penis,' or 'could you give me a boy's body instead?' if it's a girl."

Is this considered a problem from a psychological standpoint?

"It's considered a problem as long as the child perceives it as a problem. And that is very often the case. Since gender identity is something that is so crucial or vital for your perception of self. And if you are constantly referred to as someone else than as you perceive yourself, that often becomes a problem. But to me it's not a problem if the child doesn't complain of it being a problem. But in our society today it becomes a problem easily."

What care does the hospital provide?

"That depends on the age, but if I start out with the small children, that often consists of us giving advice to the parents. And the important thing here is to inform that for most of these children with extreme gender atypical behavior, that say they want to belong to the other sex, for most of them, about 80 percent, that is going to regress... That tells us that we should maybe not promote a social transition too early."

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