A new study has found that when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.
“Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth,” said author Dr. Stephen T. Russell, a professor and chair of human development and family science at The University of Texas at Austin. “We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was.”
For the study, researchers interviewed transgender youths between the ages of 15 and 21 and asked whether they could use their chosen name at school, home, work, and with friends.
Compared with peers who could not use their chosen name in any context, young people who could use their name in all four areas experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34 percent decrease in reported thoughts of suicide, and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts.
Earlier research by Russell found that transgender youths report having suicidal thoughts at nearly twice the rate of their peers, with about one out of three transgender youths reporting considering suicide.
The new study discovered that having even one context in which a chosen name could be used was associated with a 29 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts.
“I’ve been doing research on LGBT youth for almost 20 years now, and even I was surprised by how clear that link was,” Russell said.
The study interviewed 129 youths in three U.S. cities, one each in the Northeast, the Southwest and the West Coast. Transgender youths are estimated to be only about 1 percent of the population and are difficult to reach, so the research team worked with community organizations serving LGBT youths and other venues to reach as diverse a population of transgender youths as possible, Russell said.
He calls the sample “remarkably ethnically and geographically diverse and diverse in terms of social class.”
Because many names are common to one gender, allowing transgender youths to use a chosen name is one simple step that institutions such as schools, hospitals, financial institutions, workplaces and community organizations can use to help young people affirm their gender identity, Russell said.
“It’s practical to support young people in using the name that they choose,” Russell said. “It’s respectful and developmentally appropriate.”
The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
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