Dr. Amy Green, the Vice President of Research at The Trevor Project / Courtesy Photo

Hormone Therapy Linked to Lower Rates of Depression Among Trans Youth

The Trevor Project found gender-affirming hormone therapy is related to lower rates of suicide and depression among transgender and nonbinary youth in the first large-scale study on the issue.

The peer-reviewed report, titled “Association of Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy with Depression, Thoughts of Suicide, and Attempted Suicide Among Transgender and Nonbinary Youth” and published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, was conducted using an online, cross-sectional survey that collected data from 34,759 LGBTQ youths between the ages 13 and 24, including 9,019 transgender youths who shared information on gender-affirming hormone therapy. The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, ran this survey from October 12, 2020, to December 21, 2020.

The report found that transgender and nonbinary young people receiving gender-affirming hormone treatment were less at risk of experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts compared to those not receiving treatment. People 18 and younger saw especially lower risks when receiving gender-affirming hormone treatment, with a 40 percent lower rate of depression and suicide attempts within the past year.

According to another Trevor Project research study published in 2021, “National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021,” more than half of transgender nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and one out of five reported attempting suicide. Additionally, the Trevor Project’s 2020 study, “Understanding the Mental Health of Transgender and Nonbinary Youth” found that transgender and nonbinary youth were two to 2.5 times more likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide than their cisgender LGBQ peers.

Dr. Amy Green, the Vice President of Research at The Trevor Project, said she hopes that the findings will encourage lawmakers and constituents to recognize the importance of gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender and nonbinary youth. With over half of the transgender respondents to the organization’s survey stating that they are not receiving hormone treatment but are not actively choosing to abstain from it, the report shows the impetus behind making such treatment readily accessible.

“This study emphasizes the potential benefits of gender-affirming hormone therapy as a mechanism to reduce feelings of gender dysphoria and minority stress among transgender and nonbinary youth — thereby working to improve mental health outcomes and prevent suicide,” Dr. Green said. “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.”

Despite this research, this past year saw a record number of anti-transgender bills, with over 100 introduced by the midpoint of 2021, many of which prohibit transgender and nonbinary youth from accessing gender-affirming hormone treatment. Tennessee and Arkansas are the two states that passed such bills, with Arkansas denying transgender youth access to all gender-affirming health care. The law has since been blocked, but Tennessee’s ban on doctors from administrating gender-affirming health care still stands.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) emphasizes the benefits and destigmatization of gender-affirming treatments like puberty blockers on its transgender youth resource page: “Puberty blockers are not ‘experimental’ treatments, but FDA approved medications that have been used to treat precocious puberty in non-transgender children for several decades. Scientific studies demonstrate that access to puberty blockers reduces suicidal ideation and that parents’ affirmation of their child’s gender identity reduces rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide to levels consistent with their cisgender peers.”

Parental support also serves an important role in transgender and nonbinary youth receiving gender-affirming hormone treatment, which may also lead to improved mental health. The average age of respondents to the Trevor Project’s survey was 17-and-a-half years old, meaning they would still need parental consent for treatment, according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s recommendations to doctors. The Trevor Project’s report reconfirms the importance of parental support, as 80 percent of youth receiving gender-affirming hormone treatment had assistance from at least one parent.

The Trevor Project’s report shines a light on the importance of supporting the gender identities of transgender and nonbinary youth. By combating the rise of anti-LGBTQ legislation and garnering parental support, transgender and nonbinary youth can gain access to gender-affirming hormone treatment that is significantly linked to better mental health.