A new study finds that transgender people who receive gender confirmation surgeries are at a reduced need for mental health treatment.
The study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Friday, reviewed 10 years of medical data for the entire population of Sweden. Researchers analyzed data from 2,679 transgender individuals between the years of 2005 and 2015 and then looked at how much mental health treatment they required later in life.
According to their findings depression and anxiety disorders were reduced by eight percent for each year after the procedure.
It is estimated that 1 million to 1.5 million people in the United States are believed to identify as transgender. Although gender-affirming surgeries are medically recommended for individuals experiencing gender dysphoria, such care remains unavailable or unaffordable in some U.S. states as well as many countries around the world.
Richard Bränström, a co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, told Newsweek that the results give "strong support for providing gender-affirming care to transgender individuals who seek them."
Co-author John Pachankis, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, added that the findings are another indication that the reason trans people are “at higher risk of psychological distress than the general population” is because of “stigma-related stress and stress associated with a lack of affirmation of their gender identity.”
Essentially, if we want to reduce the high rates of suicidal ideation among trans people, one of the most effective ways to do so is to give them access to gender-affirming care.
In contrast, poor access to gender-affirming care is not only harmful to mental health but it can push also transgender people to seek hormones and surgery without medical supervision, which can be dangerous, such as the case of a transgender woman in Minnesota who attempted self-surgery.
Bränström was "somewhat surprised” by the fact that even among trans individuals treated 10 years ago, the risk of mental health problems were still “somewhat elevated" when compared with the general population. So while transgender people who had received gender affirming care were less likely to experience depression or anxiety than trans people who hadn’t, they still were more likely than cisgender people to have mental health issues.
"This calls for improvements in the mental health support provided to this group," he said.
The study is believed to be the first analysis of the long-term effects of gender-affirming surgery on transgender people based on a country’s population. Bränström says the findings were “based on registry data only and that researchers “don't know any details about the living conditions and needs of each individual.”He says that future studies should “explore more in-depth individual factors and their influence on the mental health of this increasingly visible population."
While this research shows the benefits of affirming a trans person’s sense of self, other reports have indicated the harms of attempting to “change” or “cure” trans identities. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that transgender people who undergo gender conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice condemned by the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and United Nations are four times more likely to try to end their lives.