Study shows gender-affirming care improves mental health

Posted at 6:28 AM, May 02, 2022

According to a report from the CDC, more than one-third of transgender high school students attempt suicide in a given year. A separate report published on JAMA Network shows that gender-affirming care improves mental health outcomes in transgender and nonbinary youths. Multiple doctors are trying to educate the public to fully understand what gender-affirming care is, and its impact on mental wellness.

Piper Rose (they/them) is a transgender advocate who knows how lifesaving gender-affirming care can be. Rose identifies as transgender because they don't identify with the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Rose says their family was very accepting of them from a young age.

"My mother always knew and said, 'I have a child that was born a whole man and a woman in one body,'" Rose said.

However, being accepted by society was something entirely different for Rose. Several decades later, with more than a dozen states are introducing laws to restrict gender-affirming care, Rose says transgender kids are still being attacked.

"It breaks my heart, you know," Rose said. "These kids, they don't have the inner resources or the outer resources in so many cases to fight for their own sense of belonging, in their own right, to be in the world. When institutions and laws and people reflect back to you that you're not supposed to be there, it's really hard."

Dr. Jerrica Kirkley (she/her) provides gender-affirming care to people across the U.S. She is also transgender.

"I went into health care in the first place because I really saw it as a vehicle for social justice," Dr. Kirkley said. "I wanted to be a doctor because I saw a lot of communities around me who were not getting the services that they needed."

Two and a half years ago, Dr. Kirkley started Plume, a telehealth company that provides virtual care to transgender people. She is the chief medical officer. She says Plume provides care for more than 13,000 people in 37 states, and the company is expanding. However, they currently only serve people ages 18 to 64.

Dr. Kirkley says state laws in some places make it complicated to provide care to teens. She says she's seen a lot of misunderstandings surrounding gender-affirming care.

"Gender-affirming care can be a very broad term, but effectively, it's any health care that is provided to trans people delivering both cultural and clinical competence and informed by the lived experience of transgender people," Dr. Kirkley said. "And so this can include things that are specific, such as gender-affirming hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgery, but also just broader primary care and preventative health services that apply to everybody."

Dr. David Inwards-Breland (he/him) also provides gender-affirming care. He's the co-medical director of the Center for Gender Affirming Care at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

"Gender-affirming care also can be done by the population by using names and pronouns and understanding that we have these folks in our society," Dr. David Inwards-Breland said.

He was recently part of a study that found a significant improvement in the mental health of transgender youth after receiving gender-affirming care.

"We found that receiving pubertal blockers and gender-affirming hormones was associated with a 60% lower odds of depression," Dr. David Inwards-Breland said.
"And 73% lower odds of suicidality compared to those transgender and nonbinary youth who did not receive."

Rose says gender-affirming care not only prevents people from taking their life, it also takes away the pain from people who feel like they can't be their authentic selves.

"Being trapped in something that you can't control is devastating to the heart, to the psyche, to the spirit, to relationships, to every facet of who you are in the world," Rose said.

"Just treat folks with respect and come with an open mind," Dr. Kirkley said. "Don't make assumptions. I think that's what we all want for ourselves, regardless of our identities."