Whenever anyone expresses concern about pressing gender ideology on American youth, the typical retort is to cite suicide statistics. “Transgender and nonbinary youth have considered suicide at higher rates than other LGBTQ youth,” warns an NPR article from May. “Children and teens who do not identify with their assigned gender can face higher rates of depression, suicide and self harm than other kids,” The New York Times reported in March.
Because of the vulnerability of “trans youth,” activists claim, resisting pro-trans indoctrination is a direct threat to the welfare of an already victimized and marginalized group. School leaders claim they are justified in hiding the trans identity of students from parents who might harm them. “Affirming trans children’s genders reduces their risk of attempting suicide,” asserted a March article in Vox, and compared “anti-trans legislation” to genocide (yes, really). A political cartoon in The Washington Post earlier this year even accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of being personally responsible for the suicide of trans children.
Yet what if the opposite is true, that promotion of alternative sexual identities among America’s children is aggravating our national mental health crisis, and increasing the likelihood of self-harm among vulnerable young populations?
Is There Something in the Water?
Sometimes it feels as if over the last decade the world awoke to to find itself transgender. The number of young people who identify as transgender has nearly doubled in just five years, according to a report from earlier this year. Moreover, the rise in young people identifying as trans has been steadily increasing for the last two decades. Earlier in 2016, The New York Times reported that the number of adults identifying as trans had doubled in five years (see a pattern?). “The sharp increase could be because many more young people now feel more comfortable identifying themselves as transgender … or it could be that more accurate data sources are now available to account for them,” conjectured an article at Education Week.
There are other plausible theories — such as a 2018 scientific study that suggested trans identification among youth might be socially contagious — but they have been quickly and aggressively maligned as bigoted and “anti-transgender” by pro-trans liberal elites. That fact is telling: rather than pursue unbiased, dispassionate study of data to understand an unprecedented social phenomenon, the pro-trans movement resorts to name-calling and cancellation. And however many “hidden” trans children there were in 2000, it seems a bit presumptuous (and dare I say unscientific) to conclude, with no data, that this sea change is wholly explained by growing acceptance of trans persons in America.
The Broader Youth Mental Health Picture
What’s often ignored in discussions of trans youth and mental health are the broader trends in American society. According to the CDC, in 2019 “more than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness … a 40 percent increase since 2009.”
That same year, approximately 1 in 6 youth had “reported making a suicide plan in the past year,” which was up 44 percent since 2009. Indeed, experts regularly speak of a “mental health crisis” among American children. These numbers predate the pandemic, though its foolhardy management by government and school officials exacerbated this national emergency.
Wouldn’t it at least be plausible that these two trends, moving seemingly in tandem, might be related? Children are increasingly lonely, isolated, and anxious, much of it a result of the digital age, social media use, and pornography addiction. Skyrocketing numbers of broken homes have led to all manner of negative consequences for children, as sociologist Bradford Wilcox’s research has shown. Might the increase in “gender dysphoria” among American youth be related to broader societal dysphoria felt by an entire generation of kids?
Is Promoting Trans Identities the Real Mental Health Crisis?
Although collection and analysis of reliable data on trans youth are limited by constraints imposed by ideologues who do not want to hear inconvenient truths about transgenderism, there is some revealing information. John S. Grabowski in his new book “Unraveling Gender: The Battle Over Sexual Difference” notes that for post-operative transgender people, the rate of psychiatric hospitalization is three times higher than for control groups. Rates of mortality and criminal conviction for trans people are substantially higher as well. Suicide attempt rates are almost fivefold, while suicide death rates are a tragic 19 times higher. In other words, even for those who undergo hormone injections and surgery (which supposedly is done to make such persons happier), the mental health problems persist, and even worsen.
Moreover, as Jane Robbins noted in a Federalist article two years ago, citing Swedish child and adolescent psychiatrist Sven Roman: “There is currently no scientific support for gender-corrective treatment to reduce the risk of suicide.” She also quotes psychologists Dr. Michael Bailey and Dr. Ray Blanchard: “[T]he best scientific evidence suggests that gender transition is not necessary to prevent suicide. … There is no persuasive evidence that gender transition reduces gender dysphoric children’s likelihood of killing themselves.” Furthermore, says Robbins, the suicide risk among children who identify as trans is less than or comparable to that of other at-risk groups of youth.
In fact, there is evidence suggesting that promoting trans ideology is increasing self-harm in youth populations (see Walt Heyer’s excellent collection of Federalist essays on the harms of transgenderism). A Heritage study recently found that “easing access to cross-sex treatments without parental consent significantly increases suicide rates.” A 2016 report observed that “a large percentage of adolescents referred for gender dysphoria have a substantial co-occurring history of psychosocial and psychological vulnerability.” A 2012 report found that “young people with gender dysphoria often present with a wide range of associated difficulties,” including “bullying, low mood/depression and self-harming.”
The phrase “self-harming” is revealing. For if the increase in trans identities among American youth is connected to the broader crisis of deteriorating mental health, then it would be better to view the trans craze as another form of self-harm, similar to eating disorders or cutting, though far more dangerous. And, indeed, at least one study has found that cutting is common among trans youth. Worryingly, educators and administrators are encouraging self-harm among children by causing what Abigail Shrier rightly calls “irreversible damage.” If we really want to address the problems associated with transgenderism, it would be better to call it what it is.
Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at The Federalist and an editor and columnist at The New Oxford Review. He has a bachelor’s in history and master’s in teaching from the University of Virginia and a master’s in theology from Christendom College. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands.