It’s no surprise that affirming, supportive environments are good for one’s mental health. With that in mind, it’s especially not surprising that for transgender youth, being accepted by one’s family, experiencing a supportive school environment, and even being able to play on sports teams that correlate with their gender identity are all positives. A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in September, as first highlighted by NBC News, suggests that transgender youth who receive gender-affirming medical care—like hormones or puberty blockers—at earlier ages are less likely to experience some mental health struggles, including depression and anxiety.
One might feel that this data is simply stating the obvious, but when we have super conservative Republicans trying to quietly block trans youth from using bathrooms or competing on sports teams, this data can do a lot of work in countering harmful narratives and beliefs. Let’s break it down below.
The study has a relatively small sample size: 300 transgender youth between the ages of 10 and 17. The minors were being treated at the Transgender Youth Clinic (TYC) at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada; the clinic provides care to minors under the age of 18 and who are in puberty. One limitation of the study is that the mental health reports were taken at a single point in time. At what age patients received their diagnoses is also an unknown; for example, it may be possible that older teenagers reported higher rates of depression diagnoses because they had more time and perhaps awareness to receive one. Even still, the findings are still important.
At the clinic, researchers found that minors older than 15 (when they became patients at the clinic) were more likely to report depression, having considered suicide, self-harmed, and having attempted suicide, than those between the ages of 10 and 15. Another way to think about this is that a common conservative talking point hinges on trans (or any LGBTQ+ youth) being “too young” to know their bodies or their needs. This study, and ones like it, show that there is a real benefit to people receiving gender-affirming care when they ask for it instead of those around them trying to brush it off as a “phase.”
The study’s lead author, pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Julia C. Sorbara, explained to NBC News that, as makes sense to many of us, a “major part of puberty is developing physical changes, and for youth with gender dysphoria, they begin to develop physical changes that are not in keeping with the gender they identify.” Unsurprisingly, as Dr. Sorbara put it, this experience can be “very distressing.” The doctor also noted to the publication that many transgender youth may want or need access to care like at this clinic, but are unable to get it.
Again, this isn’t just ethical guesswork or assumptions; this study is one of many that corroborate the importance of a supportive, gender-affirming medical and social experience when it comes to mental health. In general, the transgender community reports higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. Transgender youth also report higher rates of bullying, harassment, and homelessness than their cisgender peers. What makes a difference? Acceptance.
As Daily Kos has covered, Republican senators across the country have no qualms about discreetly introducing anti-transgender legislation, especially aimed at children. While talk about anti-trans bathroom bills has quieted, the gusto has picked up with fixations on who can play and compete in girls’ sports. For example, Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia recently introduced a bill aimed at keeping transgender girls and women out of girls’ sports, following the steps of a similar attempt in Idaho.
You can help transgender adolescents—and LGBTQ+ youth in general—by using the correct pronouns, validating and accepting identities, and of course, educating yourself on ongoing allyship and LGBTQ+ history. We also have a roundup of five free mental health and suicide prevention resources here.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 in both English and Spanish.
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