Transgender Youth Allowed to Use Their Chosen Name Have Fewer Mental Health Problems

Stephen T. Russell, Amanda M. Pollitt, Gu Li, and Arnold H. Grossman

Introduction

Transgender people—people whose gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth—are at higher risk of poor mental health than those who are not transgender.

Being able to use a “chosen name,” that is, a name different from their birth name that more closely aligns with their gender identity, is part of the social transition process for transgender people that allows them to align their gender presentation with their gender identity. However, many transgender and gender nonconforming youth are not able to use their chosen name. For example, families or peers may refuse to use the chosen name, and medical practitioners or schools may require a legal name change before calling youth by their chosen name.

Transgender youth whose gender expression and names do not appear to match may be vulnerable to unintended disclosure, or “outing,” and to discrimination or victimization. This mismatch, therefore, can lead to mental health problems. This brief examines the relationship between chosen name use—which is a proxy for youths’ gender affirmation in various contexts—and mental health among transgender youth.

Using data from a community cohort sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer youth, and youth with same-sex attractions, transgender youth were asked if they were of they were able to go by their chosen name at home, school, work, or with friends. The authors then compared these responses to levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior.

Key Findings

Transgender youth who were able to use their chosen names at home, in school, at work, and with friends had lower levels of severe depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior (see figure).

Russell figure

Policy Implications

Schools, community organizations, workplaces, healthcare providers, and other institutions could institute policies and regulations that allow for the use of transgender youths’ chosen names. Information systems can be updated so that youths’ chosen names are used whenever legal names are not required. Allowing for the use of chosen names across multiple contexts will likely improve the mental health of transgender youth.

Reference

Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A.M., Li, G. & Grossman, A.H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health.

Suggested Citation

Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A.M., Li, G. & Grossman, A.H. (2018). Transgender youth allowed to use their chosen name have fewer mental health problems. PRC Research Brief 3(7). DOI: 10.15781/T21Z4299R.

About the Authors

Stephen T. Russell (stephen.russell@utexas.edu) is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and a faculty research associate in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin; Amanda M. Pollitt is a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development postdoctoral fellow in the Population Research Center. Gu Li is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia. Arnold H. Grossman is a professor of Applied Psychology at New York University.

Acknowledgements

This research uses data from the Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide Among Sexual Minority Youth Study, designed by Arnold H. Grossman and Stephen T. Russell and supported by Award R01MH091212 from the National Institute of Mental Health. Infrastructure support for the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin was provided by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD042849). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health.

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