Impact of Transitioning on Transgender Mental Health

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Gender identity is complex, personal, and private. It can be impacted by a multitude of factors ranging from personality to genetics, life experiences, and more. When someone doesn’t feel the sex that 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 obstacles that are unique to them. Each of these can impact their mental health negatively, making it vital to address the disparities that exist. 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. 

You Deserve To Feel Comfortable & Supported In Your Own Skin

Transitioning: What Is It? 

Transitioning refers to the period of time during which a person is aligning 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 male-to-female transition process (and vice versa) looks different for everyone. Those who are 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 lots of 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 only make minor changes. 

The transition process is personal, meaning different people will be content with different levels of change. If someone is doing a full 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 to happen before they can fully step into their identity. Examples of the changes transgender individuals may make include, but are not limited to: 

  • Legal: Transgender individuals may change their legal name, which then requires 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 and puberty blockers can be used for younger transgender individuals. 

Whether someone makes changes from each of these categories or only one of them, that 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 on the 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, having an adequate support system, and more. 

Transitioning and Mental Health 

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

  • More prone to depression and other mental health disorders. 

  • Six times more likely to develop an anxiety or mood disorder as compared to the general population. 

  • Prone to living in poverty. About 29% of trans individuals live in poverty. This number gets higher depending on one’s racial makeup. 

  • Often subject to discrimination. In 2019, only 62% of Americans supported trans rights. 

  • More likely to attempt suicide. One study found that over 40% of transgender individuals had attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 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 having a 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 a hard time 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. 

Addressing the disparities that transgender individuals are up against is important, and change can’t come soon enough. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to receive mental health treatment and be treated well in society. To address these disparities, several steps need to be taken, including: 

  • More representation among healthcare providers 

  • Eliminating the structural and systemic inequalities that exist 

  • Portraying the trans community more positively in the media 

  • Putting more anti-discrimination legislation into effect  

  • Better training for mental health professionals so that they can understand the unique challenges transgender individuals face

  • Educating society about the challenges faced by the trans community

Providing adequate care to those most underrepresented can help society flourish. Building inclusivity takes time and hard work but helping the trans community to feel more accepted is well worth the effort. Since transgender people still face discrimination in multiple areas of their daily lives, everyone can do their part by fighting for equal rights and being an ally to these individuals. 

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 to get 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 single year after getting the surgery. While surgery certainly carries risks, the benefits may outweigh them and be worth pursuing. 

Should I Transition? 

You may be thinking, “I want to transition from male to female.” Perhaps it’s something you’ve been considering for a long time or an idea that recently came to mind. Wherever you’re at in the process, it’s important to recognize how you feel as an individual. This means coming to terms with your own emotions before considering how other people 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 a decision that is best for you. It can be hard to find adequate support from your loved ones, but leaning more into the people that 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 very unique and individualized experience. To begin transitioning, you can choose any number of paths for yourself. First, you should explore your gender identity both alone and alongside 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 lots of different emotions. However, realize this can happen at any point of the transition process. Talking to a therapist can help you process and regulate your emotions. 

After deciding that this is really what you want, you can begin altering the way you present yourself. For example, you might begin dressing differently, change your pronouns, or ask to be called by a different name. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to do anything you’re not comfortable 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. During this process, you’ll need to prioritize your well-being both physically and mentally. Transgender individuals face unique challenges that make it vital to try to maintain positive mental health. While it’s wise to see a professional 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 greatly benefit your mental health. Take that time to do something you like, such as a hobby or enjoyable activity. It’s likely you’ll receive much more satisfaction from doing something that’s relaxing rather than scrolling, listening to negative news segments, or comparing yourself to people online all day.  

  • Pick up healthy habits: Healthy habits include things like 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 to come. 

  • Find a good support system: Finding people who support and accept you exactly as you are is vital. You need people in your corner that 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 your feelings of loneliness, and help you to accept yourself. 

Looking out for your mental health is especially important if you’re transitioning. Transgender individuals face unique obstacles that can make it more difficult to stay positive and mentally healthy. Even if you’re seeing a mental health professional to assist you through the process, it’s still important to do things on your own time that promote mental well-being. Your brain is sure to thank you for all of your efforts, big or small. 

You Deserve To Feel Comfortable & Supported In Your Own Skin

How BetterHelp Can Help You

Wondering how to become a woman from man? Confused about the transitioning process? Whether you or a loved one is considering or already in the process of becoming a trans person, 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 by using a messaging feature. All you will need is a smart device and a reliable Wi-Fi connection to get started. 

Millions of people have found success using online therapy, and many prefer it to the traditional options that are available. Everyone has different needs, and you may have preferences that align better with one or the other. What matters most is that you’re prioritizing your mental well-being and getting the care you need. Whatever that may look like, know that BetterHelp is always here should you need assistance. Reach out today to get matched with a therapist and to start your unique journey to healing. 

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