At Galen Hope, we are very proud of our commitment to gender affirming care. As the Transgender and non-binary communities face ongoing discrimination, we wanted to take a moment and discuss some of the challenges the communities face in terms of mental health and eating disorders.
With Transgender Awareness Week (November 13-19) and Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20) on our doorstep, and in the face of increasingly problematic public policy being enacted targeting Transgender people, we have a message to the community itself:
You are seen. And you are loved.
Mental Health and the Trans/Non-Binary Community
It should go without saying that having your very existence challenged is destructive for mental health. Statistics, tragically, prove that to be true. A research study by UCLA found that “around 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetimes and that 30% of transgender youth have attempted suicide in the past year.” The study concludes that “Those rejected by their spouses or children, families of origin, or religious communities had a higher prevalence of past-year suicide thoughts and attempts.”
But where is the anxiety and depression undergirding these suicidal thoughts coming from? The Trevor Project shares some truly alarming statistics in their 2022 report:
- 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws.
- 91% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied access to the bathroom due to state or local laws.
- 83% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied the ability to play sports due to state or local laws.
If rejection correlates to suicidal thoughts, as UCLA suggests, then undoubtedly these worries about the opportunity to get medical care, play sports, and even go to the bathroom have potentially devastating consequences. Or, as Dr. Jonah DeChants puts it:
“Recent political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to health care, support systems, and affirming spaces at school, they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health.”
Gender Affirming Mental Health Care
It seems clear that mental health care is needed for this population. That care, however, needs to be gender affirming, accepting, and aware of the trauma tied to self that this community faces.
According to the World Health Organization Gender-affirming care encompasses a range of social, psychological, behavioral, and medical interventions “designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity” when it conflicts with the gender they were assigned at birth. The interventions help transgender people align various aspects of their lives — emotional, interpersonal, and biological — with their gender identity. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that identity can run anywhere along a continuum that includes man, woman, a combination of those, neither of those, and fluid.
For us, affirming care means understanding the role that gender and sexual identity plays in the lived experiences of those around us. It also means making a concerted effort to appreciate an individual for who they are and to actively work to make them comfortable in their lives and bodies.
Eating Disorders and the Trans/Non-Binary Community
As a center that treats eating disorders, as well as mental health diagnoses, we are acutely aware of the prevalence of eating disorders amongst the Trans/Non-Binary community. Taking a step, it becomes easier to see some of the reasons that this particular population struggles with eating disorders.
Some of this relationship is tied to gender dysphoria–the feelings of distress and discomfort that a person experiences when their assigned gender does not match their gender identity. VeryWellMind explains:
The effects of gender dysphoria can differ from one person to the next. For some people, these feelings of conflict may affect their self-image and behavior. A person with gender dysphoria may cope with discomfort by altering their gender expression, gender representation, or gender assignment from their gender assigned at birth. They may also make adjustments to their physical appearance.
And it’s here that ED often comes into play.
A review of research studies, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, found substantial evidence that “transgender and gender nonconforming adults experience eating disorders at a higher rate than their cisgender counterparts do.” The research shows that the risk factors include
- Body dissatisfaction
- Distress regarding body parts and characteristics
- Cultural pressures to meet gender appearance expectations
- Attempts to control menstruation
And that ultimately, “Indeed, the experience of gender dysphoria appears to be a significant motivation, and thus a distal risk factor related to body dissatisfaction, for transgender individuals to develop eating disorders.”
The Journal of Eating Disorders review also found substantial evidence that “Risk factors for transgender adults included antitransgender discrimination, social distress, self-criticism, sexual objectification, internalization of sociocultural standards of attractiveness, and body surveillance.”
It seems clear that gender affirming care is also vital to treating ED in the Trans/Non-Binary community.
How can we help?
In our blog article from Pride Month, we discussed several actionable ways that we can all help provide gender affirming care, and things that we do every day at Galen Hope. We suggest that we can all:
- Use inclusive language free from gender binaries
- Use another person’s pronouns, or gender-neutral ones if you don’t know for certain.
- Understand how intersectionality impacts everyone. We are all members of multiple categories of human, and those points of intersection matter
- Be aware of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and ableism and how your words may impact others even in ways you did not intend
- Be actively and deliberately accepting
- Be proactively affirming of gender identity, sexual preference, and any other parts of a person’s self.
- Be inclusive in hiring—representation matters
THE ROAD TO WELLNESS STARTS BY SEEKING HELP. TODAY.
Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for female and transfeminine adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, as well as a gender-specific programming for males and transmasculine individuals with eating disorders and primary mental health diagnoses.
To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.
Belong. Heal. Grow.