Impact of Transitioning on Transgender Mental Health

Updated February 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It can be impacted by many factors, from personality to genetics, life experiences, and more. 

When someone doesn’t feel the gender they were assigned at birth matches their true gender identity, they may decide to transition. For transgender people, the transitioning experience can vary greatly. Although it can bring relief to finally step into one’s true identity, transgender individuals face discrimination, hardships, and unique obstacles. Each of these can impact their mental health negatively, making it vital to address the existing disparities. By recognizing and eliminating these inequalities, the transgender community can hope to receive better treatment from the mental health care system and society as a whole.

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Transitioning: What Is It? 

Transitioning refers to the period during which a person aligns their life to match their gender identity more clearly. In general, it means transitioning from male to female or female to male, but people can also identify in a multitude of other ways. The transition process looks different for everyone. Those transitioning are referred to as transgender because they feel their sex assigned at birth doesn’t match how they feel inside.

The term transgender can include a variety of gender identities, feelings, orientations, and expressions. Transgender individuals come from all backgrounds, races, and cultures and can be of any age. For many reasons, it can take years for someone to decide to transition, making it a big deal.

The Transition Process In Detail

The transgender transition process looks and feels different for everyone. Some people make legal changes, such as to their name, while others undergo surgical procedures to change their bodily anatomy. Some change almost every aspect of their lives to match their gender identity, while others make only minor changes. 

The transition process is personal, meaning different people will be content with varying levels of change. If someone is doing a complete transition, they’ll have legal, social, and medical changes. These can be in any order, but medical changes are often the final step. Sometimes, however, someone needs surgical procedures before fully stepping into their identity. Examples of the changes transgender individuals may make include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Legal: Transgender individuals may change their legal name, requiring them to alter their birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, and more.

  • Social: Those transitioning may take on a new name without changing it legally. Some shorten their name assigned at birth, turn it into a nickname, or change it altogether. They may also use new pronouns. For example, someone going from male to female might use “she” and “her” pronouns instead of “he” and “him.” New haircuts or hairdos, different clothing styles, and grooming oneself in a new way are also common. These changes add up and allow someone to present themselves to the world in a way that feels right to them.

  • Medical: Someone transitioning may choose to undergo surgical procedures such as breast enlargement or reduction, plastic surgery, and genital or “bottom” surgery. They may do hair removals, such as from the face, back, chest, or arms. Some opt for hormone therapy instead of surgery. Hormones can alter their voice, increase the amount of hair on the body, and make masculine or feminine features more prominent. Voice therapy is commonly pursued; puberty blockers can be used for younger transgender individuals. 

Whether someone makes changes from each of these categories or only one of them doesn’t make them any less of the gender they identify as. Around 1 in 4 people choose gender affirmation surgery, meaning another 75% do not use surgery at all. Transitioning is often more about how someone feels inside and how accepting they are of themselves rather than how they choose to present themselves. However, many find that the way they present themselves to the world helps them be more accepting of themselves as they are. Every individual’s transitioning process will look and feel different.

How Long Does Transitioning Take?

Becoming a transgender female or male can be quite a lengthy process, but it can also be relatively short. Since everyone has unique wants and needs, the process could take anywhere from a few months to several years or more. The factors that could affect the length of the process include the number and type of surgeries chosen, whether hormones are used, a person’s mental and physical well-being, financial situation, support system, and more. 

Transitioning And Mental Health 

Being a transgender person can come with unique mental health challenges, but gender transitioning can have lots of benefits. First, it’s essential to understand the disparities transgender individuals face in daily life and how they can affect their mental health. According to research, those belonging to the transgender community are: 

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

Since transgender people are more likely to face discrimination than the general population, they are usually at a higher risk of mental illness. Other disparities that put them at risk of developing a mental illness include lack of healthcare coverage, stigma, poor financial situations, lack of resources, and violence. Within the mental health care system, specifically, they may have difficulty finding a provider who understands and supports them without discrimination. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, reach out right away to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance. 

Gender Transitioning And Mental Health

Gender transitioning can help alleviate some of the mental health struggles faced by trans people as they step more into their true identity. For example, research shows that transitioning can have the following positive outcomes on an individual’s mental health: 

  • Higher self-esteem

  • More resiliency

  • Greater relationship satisfaction

  • More confidence 

  • Fewer mental health conditions

  • Greater career satisfaction

  • Less substance use 

  • More positive mindset

  • Decreased anxiety and depression

  • Overall greater quality of life

Those who choose gender-affirming surgery have better mental health outcomes in the long run. In fact, their odds of needing support for a mental health condition declined by 8% every year after getting the surgery. While surgery certainly carries risks, the benefits may outweigh them and be worth pursuing. 

Should I Transition? 

Whether you’ve been considering transitioning for a long time or it’s an idea that recently came to mind, it’s important to recognize how you feel as an individual. This means coming to terms with your emotions before considering how others feel. It can be easy to be persuaded one way or the other when people we love or trust give their opinions. While it’s good to consider what they have to say, especially if they care for you, it’s also vital to set boundaries and make the best decision for you. Finding adequate support from your loved ones can be hard, but leaning into the people who accept you can help. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you accept yourself. 

So, You’ve Decided To Transition

Gender transition is a unique and individualized experience. To begin transitioning, you can choose any number of paths for yourself. First, you should explore your gender identity alone and with trusted friends and family. Seeking help from a mental health professional is also a good idea, especially if they have experience working with trans individuals. During this time, you might decide to come out to your community, but make sure to do it on your own timeline. 

You can continue making small changes and working up to the bigger ones, such as surgery. After going through a medical transition, transgender individuals may feel many different emotions. However, realize this can happen at any point in the transition process.

After deciding that this is really what you want, you can alter how you present yourself. For example, you might start dressing differently, change your pronouns, or ask to be called by a different name. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. Transitioning is all about you, and moving at your own pace is essential. Becoming the person you’re meant to be can take months or years, and no one moves at the same speed. Leaning on your support system, staying true to yourself, and meeting regularly with a mental health professional can keep you committed to your goals and aligned with your truth. 

Taking Care Of Your Mental Health

Transitioning can be an incredibly emotional process of both highs and lows. You’ll need to prioritize your physical and mental well-being during this process. Transgender individuals face unique challenges that make it vital to maintain positive mental health. While seeing a professional is wise if you can, this isn’t always possible or sustainable. Plus, it’s extra helpful to develop healthy habits you can incorporate into your daily life. So, here are some ways you can watch out for your mental health on your own:

  • Unplug and unwind: Between the news, social media, and notifications on your phone, the world can be overwhelming. Putting your devices on ‘do not disturb,’ turning off the TV, and logging out for the day can significantly benefit your mental health. Take that time to do something you like, such as a hobby or enjoyable activity. You’ll likely receive much more satisfaction from doing something relaxing rather than scrolling, listening to negative news segments, or comparing yourself to people online all day. 

  • Pick up healthy habits: Healthy habits include eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep at night. Since your physical and mental health is intricately connected, it’s important to look after both. It’s okay to start small and make little changes here and there. Those small changes can add up and develop into permanent habits that benefit your health for years.

  • Find a good support system: Finding people who support and accept you exactly as you are is vital. You need people in your corner who emotionally support you, especially during difficult moments. Transitioning can be physically and mentally challenging, but not having the right people by your side can make the process even harder. Good friends can reduce stress, decrease loneliness, and help you accept yourself. 

Looking out for your mental health is especially important if you’re transitioning. Transgender individuals face unique obstacles that can make staying positive and mentally healthy more challenging.

You Deserve To Feel Comfortable & Supported In Your Own Skin

How BetterHelp Can Help You

Whether you or a loved one is considering or already transitioning, BetterHelp may be a helpful resource along the way. BetterHelp is an online platform that matches qualified mental health professionals with those in need of support. Plus, you can do your therapy sessions right from the comfort of your couch. Connect over video chat, a phone call, or instant messaging. You only need a smart device and a reliable Wi-Fi connection to start. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective for various conditions, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, and it can significantly reduce the impact of stress. Many people can benefit from online therapy. Reach out to get matched with a BetterHelp therapist and start your unique journey to healing.


Transitioning is a complex process that can bring about a range of emotions. Trans people are more prone to various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Whether you have a mental health condition you want support with or just need someone to talk to, talking to a therapist can help.

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