General News

Study finds puberty blockers improve trans youth wellbeing

Rachel Badham February 4, 2021

A new study published in PLOS One by the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has found young trans people’s mental health improves when they have access to puberty blockers. The study, titled Short-term outcomes of pubertal suppression in a selected cohort of 12 to 15 year old young people with persistent gender dysphoria in the UK, studied the changes in 44 young people when they were approved for puberty blocking treatment by clinicians at GIDS. 98% of participants then continued on to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after ending their course of puberty blockers at 16.

The research found the young patients reported “predominantly positive or neutral” changes in their interpersonal relationships while taking puberty blockers, and felt their symptoms of gender dysphoria decrease. The conclusion states: “Participant experience of treatment as reported in interviews was positive for the majority, particularly relating to feeling happier, feeling more comfortable, better relationships with family and peers and positive changes in gender role.”

It continues: “Smaller numbers reported having mixed positive and negative changes. A minority (12 per cent at 6-15 months and 17 per cent at 15-24 months) reported only negative changes, which were largely related to anticipated side effects. None wanted to stop treatment due to side effects or negative changes.” Dr Polly Carmichael of GIDS, the lead author of the study, emphasised that puberty blockers are not a transitional treatment, but a short-term solution to gender dysphoria in young trans people: “Gender dysphoria and body image changed little across the study. This is consistent with some previous reports and was anticipated, given that GnRHa [puberty blockers] does not change the body in the desired direction, but only temporarily prevents further masculinisation or feminisation.”

Dr Carmichael added that the results will help GIDS support the mental wellbeing of their young patients: “This paper adds to our understanding of the best way to support these young people. The results show patient experience on the blocker is positive overall and there were no unexpected adverse events, but that more research is needed around this complex issue.”