Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Puberty blockers could save the lives of trans teens, study shows

a teen meets with a doctor

Story at a glance

  • A new study finds that access to puberty blockers can decrease the risk of suicide in transgender teens.
  • Transgender teens are at higher risk for suicide than their cisgender peers.
  • Several states are considering legislation that would ban anyone under 18 from receiving puberty suppressants or any gender reassignment medical treatment.

For transgender teens, puberty isn’t just confusing. It can be life-threatening. 

Compared to their cisgender peers, transgender teens are more likely to be victims of violence and attempt suicide in high school. But, a new study found that transgender adults with access to puberty blockers as teens were less likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Of more than 20,000 transgender adults between 18 and 36, those who were able to suppress puberty had lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation than those who were not able to.

While studies show that the use of some puberty blockers has grown, especially in men, this study found that of the 16 percent of transgender adults who wanted puberty blockers only 2.5 percent were able to access them. White transgender patients are more likely to have access to puberty blockers, reflecting a racial disparity that is generally seen in access to preventative health care.  

Rates of attempted suicide among transgender teens are reported to be up to 50 percent as recently as 2018 and the National LGBTQ Task force says attempted suicide rate for multiracial transgender people is 33 times higher than for the general population. 

The study published Jan. 23 comes as multiple states are considering legislation that would make it more difficult or even impossible for transgender teens to access puberty blockers. Legislation in South Dakota and Missouri specifically bans medical professionals from giving puberty-blockers to anyone under 18. A proposed South Carolina law uses more general language that would ban any gender reassignment medical treatment before 18. 

Puberty suppression is a noninvasive and reversible process that works by making the body less sensitive to puberty-stimulating hormones released in the brain. It effectively presses pause on pubertal changes like hair growth and breast development. Medical guidelines from the Endocrine Society recommend that patients suffering from gender-dysphoria or gender incongruence should receive puberty blockers during puberty, but not before.