Fascinating charts show explosion in number of children who think they are trans amid claims Covid lockdowns fuelled rates – especially in young girls

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Fascinating charts track the explosion of gender-questioning youth in the UK over the past few years.

More than 5,000 referrals were made to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in 2021/22, compared to just a few hundred a decade earlier.

Girls have accounted for an increasing proportion of the total.

Almost two-thirds of referrals in recent years were in teenage girls. 

For comparison, boys made up the vast majority when NHS medics were offering gender care to children and young people a decade ago. 

Scientists don’t know what’s behind the alarming trend of girls being more vulnerable to feelings of gender dysphoria and wanting to become boys, with investigations now underway.

The statistics formed part of the bombshell Cass review, which ruled that staples of NHS treatment of trans youth – like doling out puberty blockers and sex hormones – were built on ‘shaky foundations’.

A damning 400-page dossier by respected paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass found such treatments have little evidence of positive outcomes or safety in the long term.

While overall numbers of patients have been rising for years, in a trend experts have pinned on rising awareness of trans issues and online resources, the pandemic saw an uptake in the rate of cases.

This is, at least partly, due to pent-up demand with gender services, like many other aspects of UK healthcare, which suffered Covid-related disruption.

Commentators have also suggested that, similar to some adults, isolation during the pandemic’s lockdowns and increased online social interaction could have led to introspection or doubt among children about their gender identity.

This could have, as the theory goes, contributed to the spike in cases shown in the data.

But why girls in particular seem more vulnerable to the trend isn’t as easy to unpick. 

While rates of gender dysphoria have broadly increased in all age groups and both sexes, experts have noted the particular spike in teenage girls. 

Of the 5,000 referrals NHS child gender services received in 2021, two thirds were among females.

Such a ‘dramatic change in the case-mix of referrals’, as the NHS referred to it at the time, was one of the reasons the health service set up the Cass review in the first place. 

Dr Cass’s final report doesn’t pin a reason why girls have seemingly become more vulnerable to feelings of gender dysphoria over time.

However, it noted a number of issues that have affected Gen Z more than previous generations.

This includes the ‘unprecedented’ potential harms of always being online, with girls seeming particularly vulnerable. 

It cited UK research of 10,000 children born between 2000 and 2002 which found 43 per cent of girls (then 14) used social media three or more hours a day, compared to 22 per cent of boys.

Girls were also more likely (38.7 per cent) to experience online harassment compared to boys (25.1 per cent).

They also reported higher rates of low self-esteem (12.8 per cent), body weight dissatisfaction (78.2 per cent) and to be unhappy with their appearance (15.4 per cent).

For context teenage boys reported rates of 8.9 per cent, 68.3 per cent and 11.8 per cent for low self-esteem, body weight dissatisfaction and unhappy appearance, respectively. 

Exposure to online pornography, particular where women are subject to violent or aggressive could also be playing a role, experts suggest.

UK Government research has found such explicit content is now so widespread that young people can no longer ‘opt out’ of seeing it. 

These factors combined could be contributing to increased depression among teenage girls with a portion, in theory, latching onto the idea of changing gender as way to ‘fix’ themselves and become happy, or so the theory goes. 

The Cass review itself has called for the relationship between porn consumption and gender dysphoria to be researched. 

More broadly, the review reads: ‘The striking increase in young people presenting with gender incongruence/dysphoria needs to be considered within the context of poor mental health and emotional distress amongst the broader adolescent population’.

It noted there has also been a similar sex-divide in increasing rates of other mental health problems such as depression, self-harm and eating disorders among young people, especially among girls. 

‘The increase in presentations to gender clinics has to some degree paralleled this deterioration in child and adolescent mental health,’ the Cass review reads.

‘Mental health problems have risen in both boys and girls, but have been most striking in girls and young women. 

‘In addition to increasing prevalence of depression and anxiety, presentations of eating disorders and self-harm have increased since the Covid pandemic.’

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