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A new study suggests gender minority post-secondary students are four times more likely to experience mental health issues when compared to the general student population, signalling an urgent need for more research into a disproportionately vulnerable population segment.

A coalition of researchers from Boston University (BU), Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan School of Public Health examined the rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicidality among 1,200 gender minority students enrolled in 71 U.S.-based colleges and universities.

Of the students who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer, 78 per cent met the criteria for one or more mental health issues.

Nearly 60 per cent of gender minority students involved in the study screened positive for clinically significant depression, compared with 28 per cent of cisgender students.

“Mental health outcomes, as well as negative educational outcomes like dropping out, are preventable,” lead author Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy and management, said in a statement.

“The most effective way to prevent them would be, from my perspective, through policy changes. Inclusive policies are necessary to advance equity.”

Lipson and her colleagues are calling for further research into how minority students can feel included and supported.

“We are in a time when transgender people are being denied equal rights–to jobs, to housing, to healthcare, and to participation in the military. These data suggest that new policies eliminating equal rights for transgender people are affecting a population that already experiences a disproportionate burden of disease,” contributing author Julia Raifman, BU School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy & management added.

“As next steps, it will be important to evaluate whether equal rights or the elimination of equal rights for transgender people affects mental health disparities.”

The paper was published Friday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.