Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds: Improving Medical and Mental Health Outcomes across the HIV Care Continuum for Young Transgender Women

Statement of Problem

Male-to-female transgender youth, or young transgender women, face many unique challenges to their physical and emotional well-being, including homelessness, joblessness, victimization, increased suicidality, and alarming rates of HIV infection, reported to be approximately 25 percent according to a recent meta-analysis. Additionally, among transgender individuals who meet standardized psychiatric criteria for Gender Dysphoria, as many as 62 percent are reported to have mental illness, including depression and anxiety. Recent data also show that youth in general have worse health outcomes throughout the course of HIV treatment when compared to adults, including low rates of diagnosis, connection to resources, retention in care, use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) prescription, and viral suppression. We’re seeking to understand how psychiatric co-morbidities among young transgender women living with or at risk for HIV infection contribute to unmet health care needs and negative health outcomes for this extremely high-risk population.


The goal of this mixed-methods project is to characterize psychiatric symptoms among young transgender women living with and at high risk for HIV infection, and to understand how gender identity and psychiatric co-morbidities impact engagement in care across the HIV care continuum including testing, prevention services, linkage to care, retention, medication adherence, and viral suppression.

Participants will be young transgender women who are either HIV+ or at risk for infection. First, individuals will complete a computer-assisted patient survey that gathers demographic information, measures for mental health, sexual health behavior, medication adherence, and items about access to gender-affirming medical therapies.

Second, a semi-structured interview will be conducted to gain a better understanding of how gender identity and any related mental health symptoms may play a role in engagement in care across the HIV care continuum.

Finally, participants of unknown or negative HIV status will be given the option to take a rapid HIV test after completing their survey and interview. In the event of a positive result, the participant will be connected immediately to HIV resources and care. For those participants who are HIV+, chart review will also be completed to determine rates of retention in care and viral suppression. Chart review is a review of an individual’s medical chart to abstract information pertinent to the research project such as HIV blood test results (e.g. CD4 count and percent, viral load).

Next Steps

Identifying barriers and facilitators to care for young transgender women will inform intervention development and policy change to improve medical and mental health care for this marginalized population along the HIV care continuum. 

This project page was last updated in July 2019.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds: Improving Medical and Mental Health Outcomes across the HIV Care Continuum for Young Transgender Women [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here].