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Surgery Improves Mental Health for Transgender People

Woman Being Reassured by Doctor

Gender-affirming surgery contributes to long-term, mental health benefits for some transgender people, says the latest research from Yale School of Public Health.

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Researchers took stock of visits to healthcare facilities for mood and anxiety issues, prescriptions for antidepressants and other mental health medication, and hospitalizations for suicide attempts.

The measures were assessed for ten years before receiving gender-affirming hormones and surgical treatments, and ten years after.

“This study extends earlier evidence of associations between gender-affirming treatment and improved mental health,” Dr. Richard Bränström told ABC News. He is the senior author of the study and associate professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The study concluded that the likelihood of requiring treatment for anxiety or mood problems was reduced by 8% for every year following a gender-affirming surgery.

This study provides more evidence that gender-confirming procedures are necessary to the well being of transgender individuals. Other recent studies showed that therapies aimed at converting transgender people to their assigned-at-birth gender, or curing them without affirming their gender preference, caused irreparable harm. In conjunction, these studies provide evidence for what transgender people already know—the best way forward for the mental and physical health of these individuals is affirming their true identity.

That said, as with any study, there are some problems.

No identity, medical procedure, or mental health treatment is one size fits all. While the majority of transgender people benefit from affirming treatment, overzealous applications of medical procedures has harmed some. Other recent news stories include ones about trans regret and charities set up to help folks, especially impressionable teens who were rushed into surgery. The far right has attempted to dramatically exaggerate these stories, but the left ignores them altogether and invalidates the humanity of trans people who do not fare well with medical treatments, or those people who believe they are trans but are mistaken.

The study also found that hormone treatment did not have the same effect as surgical treatment on mental health, which surprised the experts and raises a red flag as to the conclusions of the study. That’s because most trans people will anecdotally tell you that hormone treatment is a huge relief, and would have expected the outcome to be the same or greater for affirming hormones. Surgery comes with many risks, complications, and can cause great setbacks and depression whether for transgender people or others, for other reasons.

A third concern with the study is that it examined people in relatively high-income groups, rather than a variety. Access to surgery was not a problem, nor was after-care or self-care before and after. The experiences of most transgender people are closer to poverty than to wealth, so the study may be unrealistic.

Finally, doctors like Dr. Hansel Arroyo, director of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, warn health professionals and transgender people that depression must be treated in and of itself, not by gender surgery. That must be separate, and the positive results shouldn’t be confused with being treatment itself for depression.

“We do not use gender-affirming treatments, either hormones or surgeries, to treat psychiatric disorders like clinical depression or anxiety,” he explains. “We know that people who are clinically depressed will often have a bad surgical outcome including poor wound healing, longer hospital stays.”

While the doctor was not commenting on the trans-regret stories, his insight might be useful there. Are those stories cases where surgery was used to treat depression or confusion, rather than to affirm gender? It’s worth looking into those discrepancies.

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