Gender-affirming hormone therapy saves trans kids’ lives, according to science

·3-min read

Giving gender-affirming hormone therapy to young trans people who want it significantly decreases the risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and depression, according to a landmark study.

Trans youth who take gender-affirming hormone therapy are nearly 40 per cent less likely to have been depressed or attempted suicide in the last year compared with trans youth who want hormones but don’t receive them, the study has revealed.

Researchers at the Trevor Project, a US-based LGBT+ suicide prevention organisation, published their peer-reviewed findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health on 14 December.

More than 9,000 trans and non-binary young people, aged between 13 and 24, took part in the online study last year.

Half of the trans and non-binary youth surveyed were not using gender-affirming hormone therapy but wanted to, while 36 per cent were not interested. Fourteen per cent of those surveyed were taking gender-affirming hormone therapy.

The study also found that parental support of a young person’s trans identity plays a strong role in whether or not they can access gender-affirming hormone therapy, with nearly 80 per cent of those on hormones reporting that at least one of their parents supported their gender identity.

“It’s clear that gender-affirming care has the potential to reduce rates of depression and suicide attempts, while banning this vital care and exposing young people to harmful political rhetoric can cause real harm,” said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project.

“It’s critical that all transgender and non-binary youth across the country have access to medical care that is affirming, patient-centred and evidence-based.”

The study comes as a wave of Republican-backed anti-trans bills are seeking to restrict trans youth’s access to gender-affirming healthcare in multiple US states.

In a statement about the Trevor Project’s latest study, Dr Amy Green, vice-president of research, said: “This study emphasises the potential benefits of gender-affirming hormone therapy as a mechanism to reduce feelings of gender dysphoria and minority stress among transgender and non-binary youth – thereby working to improve mental health outcomes and prevent suicide.

“These data should serve as a call to action to resist blanket bans on gender-affirming medical care and to invest in more research on this topic so that youth and their families can make evidence-informed decisions regarding care.”

Multiple studies show giving trans kids gender-affirming healthcare saves lives

While it’s the first study of this scale to look at hormone therapy and trans and non-binary youth, the findings are supported by several studies from recent years that also found giving trans youth access to gender-affirming care has a positive impact on their mental health.

These include a 2020 study in Pediatrics that found access to puberty blockers for trans youth who want them reduces their suicide risk in the short- and long-term, as well as reducing their likelihood of developing mental-health problems; a 2021 study in PLOS One that found the majority of trans teens who take puberty blockers to treat gender dysphoria are happier and report having a positive experience of the treatment; and a 2021 study in Pediatrics that found shorter gender clinic waiting times – getting trans youth access to gender-affirming healthcare sooner – leads to lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Gender-affirming healthcare includes hormone therapy and surgeries, and also speech therapy, family therapy, counselling, puberty blockers and hair removal.

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