April 09, 2018
2 min read

Risk for depression, suicide drops when transgender youth use chosen names

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Stephen T. Russell

Study findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that young transgender persons who used their chosen name at work, school and home instead of the name given to them at birth reported fewer depressive symptoms and less suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

“There has been sudden public attention to transgender people and issues in recent years — and we have had little research evidence about the realities of the lives of transgender young people,” Stephen T. Russell, PhD, chair, department of human development and family sciences, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, told Healio Psychiatry.

Using data from a cohort of LGBTQ youth in the U.S., investigators evaluated the link between chosen name use and mental health among 129 transgender and gender nonconforming youth aged 15 to 21 years. Via interview, researchers asked whether participants could use their preferred name at school, home, work and with friends and measured depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Of the 129 participants included in this study, 74 reported using a chosen name instead of their birth name. After adjusting for covariates, Russell and colleagues found that transgender youth who used their preferred names in multiple contexts reported fewer depressive symptoms and less suicidal ideation and behavior. Furthermore, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behavior were at the lowest levels when transgender youth could use their chosen names at school, home, work and with friends.

“This study shows that the factors that support the social transition of transgender youth — like getting to use their chosen name — make a big difference for their mental health,” Russell said. “Other factors that could support their social transition are likely to also promote their mental health, like using preferred pronouns, getting to dress as they choose, or using the appropriate restroom.”

Specifically, compared with youth who could not use their preferred name in any context, those who could experienced a 71% drop in severe depression symptoms and a 34% and 65% drop in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, according to a press release. There were no significant differences in mental health issues by gender identity, race/ethnicity, sexual identity or age.

“Leading medical and psychological organizations have already recommended the use of chosen names as best practice in clinical care. This research documents that not only is it disrespectful not to respect the chosen name of a transgender youth, it may actually be harmful,” Russell told Healio Psychiatry.

“At the same time, we have a long way to go with our health and education systems to make this easy,” he continued. “Too often those data systems are designed only to record legal names — although many schools and health systems have included alternatives, such as the option of indicating a nickname or preferred name. So, there are a number of implications for the logistics of medical and education records.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.