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Gender-Affirming Care Helps Save Many Trans Lives


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Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Gender-Affirming Care

This year, The Trevor Project conducted one of the largest surveys ever orchestrated[1] on the mental health of transgender (trans) people. Over 34,700 participants contributed, and the collective’s findings were more than compelling.

The Trevor Project, at its core, stands in defense of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals (LGBTQ), addressing issues like suicide, depression, self-harm, and emotional dysfunction as a whole. This seminal study takes a closer look at one of the most beneficial forms of therapy for transgender people: gender-affirming hormonal treatment, or GAHT for short. 

The results: adequate gender-affirming care has a significantly positive effect on outlook, self-esteem, and affirmation for trans people, especially trans teens.

What Is Gender-Affirming Care?

Gender-affirming therapy is used to describe corrective medical, hormonal, and surgical treatment for trans or nonbinary patients. This services category may also include[2] masectomy, genital reassignment, facial reconstruction, voice modification, facial hair removal, and puberty blockers.

All gender-affirming care serves the patient’s self-identified gender, whatever that may be — male to female, female to male, or a truly nonbinary identity. Historically, access to these services has been inequitable at best[3], to the detriment of the mental health of the people who require them. 

Now, in light of these results, more people are thinking critically about this contentious subject. In essence, this survey’s goal was to highlight many of the challenges that trans teens and adults in transition face. It contextualizes these problems and links them to the solutions that gender-affirming treatment may provide.

This emerging evidence is compelling many mental health professionals to encourage healthcare providers to regard gender-affirming treatment not only as a viable option for trans teens but, in some cases, close to medically necessary. Statistically, gender-affirming care results in a much more functional, much more productive, and much happier individual, all to the benefit of society at large.

What Did The Study Find?

The Trevor Project’s results were staggering; plenty of these findings attest to the challenges[4] that many trans people face in their day-to-day lives. Participants, on average, were around seventeen and a half years old, which makes these results even more heartbreaking.

One interesting figure revealed that half of the survey respondents are not currently undergoing gender hormone treatment; around 14% claim that the interest isn’t there.

Some of the other major takeaways[5] here include:

  • 42% of LGBTQ youth and more than half of the trans and nonbinary participants surveyed have experienced pervasive, disruptive thoughts of suicide in the last year alone.
  • Those already undergoing GAHT reported that, since beginning treatment, their levels of depression are now markedly lower than what they remember experiencing before. 
  • Trans participants who wished to receive hormone therapy but were unable to for one reason or another were significantly more depressed than those with access to care.
  • Trans teens with parents supporting their gender identities were much more likely to receive hormonal gender treatment.

It’s all grounding information. What is the connection between an affirmed gender identity and a mentally-well individual?

Why Is Gender-Affirming Care Important for Trans People?

It’s no secret that trans youth struggle emotionally much more than their cis (a person whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth) peers. Discrimination may lead to housing insecurity[6], domestic violence, and even legal issues wherever their gender identities are concerned and disputed by others.

Amongst trans teens across the board, around half[7] report attempting suicide at least once in their lives. The Trevor Project found that transgender and nonbinary teens are more than twice as likely as cis teens to experience depression and other forms of mental illness throughout their lives.

According to many experts, education for both trans teens and their healthcare providers is paramount to helping both parties navigate this crucial and tumultuous intersection. Preventative and interventive measures may never end up being necessary with a solid foundation of understanding, support, and resources underfoot.

The benefits of gender-affirming therapy for trans teens include:

  • Lower rates of suicide
  • Lower rates of self-harm
  • Fewer suicide attempts
  • Lower rates of depression and anxiety
  • A reduction in feelings of gender dysphoria and shame
  • Higher ease-of-being in public and in social situations
  • Higher self-esteem and perceptions of self-worth
  • An enhanced ability to socialize and to connect with others

In the same way that anti-depressants make it easier for a person with depression to engage with life and those around them, gender-affirming therapy puts a new spin on life for trans people in peril. Why not provide these life-saving services to the people who need them?

Other Forms of Gender-Affirming Care

While this survey does place a hormonal treatment on a pedestal, it’s far from the only way that any type of person can show their support for the transgender people in their lives. 

Strategies for other members of the community[8], as well as LGBTQ allies, include:

  • Affirming the gender of a loved one actively and explicitly by adhering to the individual’s preferred name and pronouns, as well as through other channels of care
  • Giving your loved one room and time to process and to reflect while transitioning Understanding and empathy are both vital forms of support.
  • Creating a safe space for your loved one, in the home, at school or work, or even simply just for an afternoon visit.
  • Providing your loved ones with resources and information that may help them manage and come to terms with their new gender identity

When our worlds are in alignment with who we are, harmony and peace ensue. Gender-affirming hormonal treatment is a great place to start if the individual is so inclined. These courtesies only create a more inclusive environment from which our trans friends will readily be able to thrive.

Hope to Come: How the Mental Health System Falls Short for Trans People

The times are changing. With a renewed public interest in trans-well-being over the last decade, the future is looking bright for the entire LGBTQ community. 

If you or somebody that you love is just setting out on their own journey, there’s plenty to read up on in anticipation of the next phase of life. It’s true what they say: with acceptance, patience, and love, it really does get better.

+ 8 sources

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  1. The Trevor Project. (2021). New Study Finds Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy Linked to Lower Rates of Depression, Suicide Risk Among Transgender Youth – The Trevor Project. [online] Available at: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/blog/new-study-finds-gender-affirming-hormone-therapy-linked-to-lower-rates-of-depression-suicide-risk-among-transgender-youth/ [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  2. ‌Ucsf.edu. (2019). Overview of gender-affirming treatments and procedures | Gender Affirming Health Program. [online] Available at: https://transcare.ucsf.edu/guidelines/overview [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  3. ‌Puckett, J.A., Cleary, P., Rossman, K., Mustanski, B. and Newcomb, M.E. (2017). Barriers to Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Individuals. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, [online] 15(1), pp.48–59. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13178-017-0295-8 [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  4. ‌Eisenberg, M.E., McMorris, B.J., Rider, G.N., Gower, A.L. and Coleman, E. (2020). “It’s kind of hard to go to the doctor’s office if you’re hated there.” A call for gender‐affirming care from transgender and gender diverse adolescents in the United States. Health & Social Care in the Community, [online] 28(3), pp.1082–1089. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/hsc.12941 [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  5. ‌Thetrevorproject.org. (2021). The Trevor Project National Survey. [online] Available at: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/ [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  6. ‌Ucsf.edu. (2019). Homeless transgender individuals | Gender Affirming Health Program. [online] Available at: https://transcare.ucsf.edu/guidelines/homeless [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  7. ‌Proquest.com. (2018). Up to half of transgender teens attempt suicide – ProQuest. [online] Available at: https://www.proquest.com/openview/e7e3fba514af1428825c94346e909fa5/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=29327 [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].
  8. Psychiatry.org. (2017). TGNC Guide. [online] Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/transgender-and-gender-nonconforming-patients/gender-affirming-therapy#:~:text=Back%20to%20Transgender%20and%20Gender,try%20to%20%E2%80%9Crepair%E2%80%9D%20it. [Accessed 22 Dec. 2021].

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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