Using a Transgender Person's Name Can Decrease Their Risk of Depression and Suicide
A new study from The University of Texas at Austin has shed light on the importance of name usage for transgender youth. The study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in preparation for the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, concluded that when young transgender people are able to use their names in areas of everyday life, their risk of suicide and depression decreases.
Study author Stephen T. Russell further explained his findings. "Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth," he told UT News. "We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their...name, the stronger their mental health was." (It’s important to note that just as someone’s pronouns may not be the ones ascribed to most people via a gender binary, a person’s name isn’t preferred; it just is.)
Researchers involved in the study spoke with transgender individuals between the ages of 15 and 21, asking them whether their names were used in four specific areas: at work, at school, with friends, and at home. They found that young people who could use their names in all four scenarios experienced 71% fewer symptoms of depression, 34% fewer symptoms of suicidal ideation, and a 65% decrease in attempted suicide than those who were not able to use their names.
As noted by UT Texas, Russell had conducted prior research that determined that transgender youth were more likely to experience suicidal ideation than their peers — a conclusion that has been echoed in many other studies. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health added that transgender youth are also more susceptible to eating disorders than their cisgender peers, and the trend is even worse for trans women. As Dr. Swapan Banerjee explained, "Eating disorders among transgender and gender-variant individuals might be connected to types of oppression such as sexism, racism, and classism that a transgender individual...might face."
With regard to the new research, it's clear that this study raises an important point: something as easy as using someone's name can make a huge difference in their overall lives. Russell would agree. He noted that "it's practical to support young people in using the name that they choose," adding that "it’s respectful and developmentally appropriate."