Senators Seek Mental Health Guidelines For Trans Youth

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday October 9, 2021
Originally published on October 8, 2021

Democratic senators sent a letter to leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for an establishment of "best practices" guidelines from the agency "to address the mental health needs of trans and nonbinary children," NBC News reported.

The letter was addressed to HHS Assistant Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine (who, as NBC News noted, is "the country's first transgender federal official") and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, "the assistant health secretary for mental health and substance use," NBC said.

Noting that "There's still clearly discrimination happening out there," Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told NBC News that such guidelines from the federal agency would "be a really important signal for the administration to send that we don't just expect there to be a lack of discrimination. We expect there to be a culture of empathy and understanding and appropriate treatment for LGBT youth who are entering health care settings."

The push by the Democratic senators to ensure that transgender and gender-nonconforming youth are respected by health professionals comes at a time when Republican lawmakers in a number of states have targeted those same children with a slew of anti-trans laws designed to limit or deny access to team sports and public facilities, and even deny them medically appropriate healthcare.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, trans and gender-noncomforming youth in those states are showing signs of greater mental health distress than their counterparts elsewhere. "The Trans Lifeline, the country's first transgender crisis hotline, saw a 72 percent increase in calls from Texas in May compared with May 2020," NBC News noted. "In May, Texas lawmakers began to consider about a dozen bills aimed at limiting trans rights."

One such bill has failed in the Texas state House of Representatives three times, but Republican lawmakers have now routed the bill through a different committee, which is chaired by a Republican state lawmaker, Spectrum News 1 reported. State lawmakers expect the bill, which "would require transgender students to play on sports teams that correspond with their gender assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity" will now pass the House.

Advocates decried the toll such legislative targeting takes on youth. "This repeated debate about, 'Are you allowed to be in sports? Are you allowed to go to the doctor and get gender affirming care? Are you allowed to use the bathroom that you need to use at school?' all has a really intense negative toll on LGBTQ youth mental health, especially for trans and non-binary youth," Trevor Project research scientist Jonah Dechants told Spectrum News 1.

Even without being the targets of legislative attacks, such children are at much higher risk of self-harm or suicide than cisgender and heterosexual youth. NBC News noted that a survey conducted this year by The Trevor Project "found that more than half of trans and nonbinary youths seriously considered suicide last year."

"A similar survey conducted by the project in 2020 had nearly identical findings, with both surveys canvassing tens of thousands of LGBTQ youths," the news article added.

Transgender people of all ages encounter discriminatory treatment in medial settings, the article said, with one recent survey showing "that nearly half of transgender adults reported at least one form of mistreatment or discrimination within the year."

Bri Barnett of Trans Lifeline explained to NBC News that "trans people disproportionately experience mental health challenges," with a major contributor to that being discriminatory treatment that "takes place in medical settings."

Barnett said that federal guidelines ensuring equitable health care for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, as well as "having a supportive community that makes sure trans youth are being affirmed and get the care they need is the greatest intervention we can make to support the mental [health] of young trans people."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.