News & Events

Gender-affirming care can improve mental health outcomes in transgender youth

Celena Adler, UW Epi News | February 25, 2022
2 minutes to read

New research published in JAMA Network Open shows that gender-affirming hormones and puberty blockers have a beneficial impact on depression and suicide risk in transgender and nonbinary youth. 

The study followed 104 transgender and nonbinary youth, ages 13 to 20, over the span of twelve months as they received care at the Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic. Those who received gender-affirming hormones or puberty blockers had 60% lower odds of depression and 73% lower odds of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

“Our study adds to a robust evidence base that access to gender-affirming care is critical for ensuring the well-being of transgender and nonbinary young people,” said Diana Tordoff, a PhD candidate with the University of Washington Department of Epidemiology.

Previous research indicates that transgender and nonbinary youth experience disproportionate rates of poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and attempts due to societal stigma, discrimination, and family rejection. Although the new study suggests that puberty blockers or hormones can alleviate risks of depression and suicidality in this population, a correlation was not found between gender-affirming medication and anxiety. 

Tordoff explained that “delays in prescribing hormones and puberty blockers may initially worsen mental health symptoms for trans youth.” Transgender and non-binary youth who didn’t begin hormones or puberty blockers within the first three to six months of starting care demonstrated a two- to three-fold increase in depression and suicidality.

“2021 and 2022 have been record-breaking years for anti-transgender legislation, and the majority of it specifically focuses on trans young people and students. Many of these legislative and governmental efforts aim to criminalize gender-affirming care for trans youth,” said Tordoff. “Given what we know about the importance of timely access to this care for young people, if these laws take effect, the consequences could result in lost lives and incredibly negative impacts on the wellbeing of trans youth and their families.”

This study was funded by Seattle Children’s Center for Diversity and Health Equity and the Pacific Hospital Preservation Development Authority.

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