Mental health benefits associated with gender-affirming surgery

Various pride flags.

Various pride flags are displayed at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo

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Gender-affirming surgeries are associated with numerous positive health benefits, including lower rates of psychological distress and suicidal ideation, as well as lower rates of smoking, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study examined data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which included nearly 20,000 participants, 38.8 percent of whom identified as transgender women, 32.5 percent of whom identified as transgender men, and 26.6 percent of whom identified as nonbinary. Of the respondents, 12.8 percent had undergone gender-affirming surgery at least two years prior and 59.2 percent wanted to undergo surgery but had not done so yet.

Gender-affirming surgeries were associated with a 42 percent reduction in psychological distress and a 44 percent reduction in suicidal ideation when compared with transgender and gender-diverse people who had not had gender-affirming surgery but wanted it, according to the findings. The study also found a 35 percent reduction in tobacco smoking among people who had gender-affirming surgeries.

“Going into this study, we certainly did believe that the gender-affirming surgeries would be protective against adverse mental health outcomes,” lead author Anthony Almazan, an M.P.H. candidate at Harvard Chan School, said in an April 28, 2021, HealthDay article. “I think we were pleasantly surprised by the strength of the magnitudes of these associations, which really are very impressive and, in our opinion, speaks to the importance of gender-affirming surgery as medically necessary treatment for transgender and gender diverse people who are seeking out this kind of affirmation.”