Transgender youth have a much greater risk of suicide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if they have access to a puberty blocker, their chances of suicide and mental health problems in the immediate term and down the road decline significantly, a new study finds.
The study, the first of its kind to examine access to pubertal suppression and suicidality, was published Thursday in the medical journal Pediatrics. The research comes as a handful of states are considering placing restrictions on transgender health care.
One state, South Dakota is considering a law that would make it a felony for health care providers to prescribe medication to stop puberty, among other gender affirming health care treatments. South Carolina and Missouri are also considering similar restrictions.
The legislation would contradict medical guidelines from several associations, including the Endocrine Society, which has guidelines that recommend doctors offer transgender teens pubertal suppression therapy, also known as puberty blocking. It became a treatment option in the United States in 1998.
With this therapy, doctors can inject a compound or use an implant that mimics the actions of a puberty-stimulating hormone that is released in the brain known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone. The compound makes the pituitary gland less sensitive to that hormone and, in doing so, it essentially pauses puberty. It’s a noninvasive process that can be reversed. Puberty starts again after the drugs are stopped.
The practice has become more common in the US recently, studies have found. The latest study, though, found that 16.9% of those who were part of a survey of the transgender community wanted pubertal suppression as a part of their gender-related care. Of those who were surveyed, only 2.5% got this treatment.
Those who underwent the puberty-blocking treatment had lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation and past-month severe psychological distress, compared to those who wanted the treatment but did not receive it.
Researchers reached that conclusion by analyzing data from the 2015 US Transgender Survey, involving 20,619 people between the ages of 18 and 36 years old.
Some smaller studies in the past have shown that people who have undergone puberty-blocking treatments early in life, along with psychological support, have better mental health outcomes later in life.