Gender-Affirming Care Decreases Depression for Trans Youth

Eric Tegethoff | Public News Service
A recent study found as many as three-quarters of trans youths are depressed, but gender-affirming care has been proven to reduce that number. Photo Credit: pikselstock / Adobe Stock

Depression and thoughts of suicide are higher among transgender youth. But studies show that gender-affirming care improves their mental health. Comments from Diana Tordoff, epidemiologist, University of Washington.

Transgender youths face increased risks of depression and suicide compared with other young people, but the latest study finds gender-affirming care helps reduce those risks.

University of Washington epidemiologist Diana Tordoff said medication such as puberty blockers has been used for more than 30 years – and not just by trans youth. Similarly, she said, gender-affirming hormone therapy, such as testosterone or estrogen, is nothing new and helps a young person experience puberty properly aligned with their gender.

In her study, Tordoff followed more than 100 trans youths between the ages of 13 and 20 over the course of a year.

“The main findings of our study,” she said, “is that youths who received puberty blockers or gender-affirming hormones were 60% less likely to be depressed, and 73% less likely to have suicidal thoughts, compared to youth who did not receive those medications.”

Tordoff said the results aren’t surprising, and this is just the most recent research to show that gender-affirming care improves mental health for trans youth. She added that other studies have found the positive impacts can last into adulthood. The UW study was done in collaboration with the Seattle Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic.

Tordoff said anti-trans discrimination and stigma has effects on people’s mental health. That includes inaccurate portrayals in the media and a record-breaking slate of recent legislation targeting trans people across the country. But she also noted that trans youths can thrive when they are supported by their families and communities.

“What we keep saying over and over again, because it’s true, is that gender-affirming care is life-saving care and it’s also life-giving care,” she said. “It really allows people to thrive and live their best lives as their most authentic selves.”

She listed many barriers to getting that care, including financial and geographical, plus insurance coverage and long wait times to see pediatric providers. She added that only one in five young people who could benefit from gender-affirming hormones access them.