Barriers Faced By Transgender People In Mental Health Care

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated October 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
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According to the American Psychiatric Association, the term “transgender” refers to a person “whose sex assigned at birth (usually based on external genitalia) does not align with their gender identity (i.e., one’s psychological sense of their gender).” Gender identity does not always match up with someone’s sex assigned at birth, and even sex is not always as simple as some may think. Transgender individuals, and others whose gender identities do not conform to societal standards, may face health challenges, including mental illness and medical concerns. This article aims to educate on gender dysphoria, gender affirming care, and the potential health barriers that many transgender individuals, especially transgender youth, may face.

While some of the statistics and information in this article refer specifically to transgender people, many also apply to those who identify as gender non-conforming, non-binary, gender expansive, genderqueer, genderfluid, etc. It’s important to understand that being transgender is not a disorder, nor is it classified among disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition.

Mental Health In The Transgender Community

When a person feels like their gender expression conflicts with their biological sex, they may experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is when someone feels uncomfortable with their body or how they express themselves in relation to their gender identity. While many transgender and gender non-conforming people experience gender dysphoria, not every transgender person will have these feelings. There are mental health challenges associated with living with gender dysphoria, but it is not a mental illness. As evidenced by the statistics shared below, transgender people tend to experience higher rates of mental illness than cisgender (those who identify with their assigned sex at birth) or non-queer people as a result of their lived experiences with discrimination, a lack of acceptance, poverty, and even violence. Transgender people may also experience mental illness due to a lack of access to general medical and mental health care, or because they cannot receive gender affirming care. This is especially true for those with intersecting identities, such as transgender people of color and/or those who have a disability.

Compounding these challenges is the fact that transgender people often face significant barriers to quality mental health care. Read on to find out more about LGBTQ+ mental health, including what can be done about this issue.

Mental Health Statistics Related To Transgender People

According to one study, there are various risk factors that may make a transgender person more likely to develop a mental illness. These include unemployment, low income, limited education, everyday discrimination, and violence. Marginalization, bullying, stereotypes, and being unhoused often also contribute to a higher rate of mental disorders, and all of these tend to be more common among transgender and gender non-conforming people. Again, each of these factors may be compounded in individuals who also face racism, ableism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination.

Some Statistics About Mental Health In The Transgender Community:

  • Transgender people are six times more likely to experience a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder than those who are cisgender.
  • “Sexual minority adults,” including all of those in the LGBTQIA+ community, are more likely to experience an eating disorder than cisgender, heterosexual individuals, which one study attributes to “the minority stress and discrimination experienced by these individuals.”
  • Statistics from 2021 show that transgender adults are also more likely to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder than cisgender adults, as their lived experiences may make them turn to substances to cope with distress, as one article reports.
  • Transgender people are more than four times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than cisgender people.
  • According to the Trevor Project, fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary young people say they find their home to be gender-affirming.
  • Transgender individuals who can receive acute mental health care are more likely to experience marginalization during their experience, such as not having their gender recognized or pronouns respected.
  • The Center for American Progress reports that 28% of transgender survey respondents say they postponed or avoided seeking necessary medical care in the last year for fear of experiencing discrimination, which includes 22% transgender respondents of color.
  • Young people who identify as transgender are three to four times more likely to engage in self-harming behavior.

 If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 by dialing 988.

Common Barriers To Mental Healthcare For Transgender People

Again, in addition to experiencing higher rates of mental illness than cisgender and non-queer people, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals also statistically face more obstacles to receiving medical and mental health care. Some of the most common barriers to care include the following.

Limited Availability Of Specialized Care

Some areas, such as smaller towns or rural areas, don’t have providers who can offer the specialized care that some transgender people may need—such as hormone therapy, gender affirming treatments, gender-affirming surgeries or mental health care.

Transgender people in less populated areas may also struggle to find informed, empathetic therapists or psychiatrists who have experience in transgender issues, and may even face discrimination and/or harassment in healthcare settings for their mental health concerns.

In addition, the laws in some areas may prohibit gender-affirming care, the effects of which can be enormous. A 2022 study reports that youth who receive gender-affirming care are 60% less likely to experience moderate or severe depression and 73% less likely to exhibit suicidal behaviors as measured in a 12-month follow up.

Uninformed Care Providers

According to one survey, one in three transgender respondents say they’ve had to “teach their doctor about transgender people in order to receive appropriate care”. Many care providers are uninformed about the needs and experiences of transgender people, or may even exhibit open disdain or hostility toward these individuals when they seek care for their mental health conditions.

Lack Of Financial Resources

Many people, regardless of gender identity, aren’t able to receive the medical or mental health care they may need because of cost. This is especially true for transgender people. As of January 2022, “trans men and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people earn 70 cents for every dollar the typical worker earns, while trans women earn 60 cents to that dollar”.

Transgender people are also more likely to experience unemployment and poverty than the rest of the US population. All of the above is especially true for those with intersecting identities, such as trans and gender non-conforming people of color.

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Abusive Relationships Or Living Situations

Transgender people are 1.7 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than cisgender people. Those who are in an abusive relationship* may also face a restriction of resources, including financial resources. This can be particularly true for transgender youth** who are dependent on an abusive caregiver. Situations like these can make it difficult or impossible for transgender individuals to receive the healthcare they may need.

*If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

**The Trevor Project is a resource for LGBTQIA+ youth. If you need support, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or visit their website to receive chat and text options.

Mental Health Resources For Transgender People

As you can see from the statistics above, the barriers many transgender people face when it comes to seeking mental healthcare and other types of healthcare are complex, interconnected, and systemic.

Advocating for legislation that supports and empowers transgender people, fights discrimination, and broadens crucial care availability is one important way that those who are passionate about this issue can help. 

Another is to volunteer with and/or donate to organizations that support the mental health of transgender people.

Some Organizations That Benefit Transgender Individuals:

  • The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN), which fights for social justice for trans people of color in particular and helps such individuals find empathetic, affirming therapists
  • The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ youth in particular through a crisis hotline, resources, and tools for finding community
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality, a social justice organization that advocates for legislation to protect and empower transgender people and offers advice and resources related to healthcare, insurance, legal aid, and more for transgender individuals
  • Trans Lifeline, an organization run by and for transgender people that offers a support lifeline, community, information about crucial resources, and more

You can also make an effort to support the transgender and gender non-conforming people in your life and community. Ways to do this include using the correct name, pronouns, and other identifiers related to gender identity for those around you, standing up against harassment, stereotypes, and bullying at school, in the workplace, and in social settings, and providing support and affirmation for queer youth in your life.


Resources For Transgender People Seeking Mental Healthcare 

If you identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, you can connect with the organizations above for support and resources for mental health care for mental health disorders and other needs. You can also visit your local LGBTQIA+ community center or search for other community organizations and nonprofits in your area that specialize in the needs of queer individuals.

If you’re interested in seeking therapy but are unable to find an informed, empathetic provider near you or face financial barriers to care, you might consider online therapy. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, or TeenCounseling for those aged 13–19, you can meet with tens of thousands of licensed mental health professionals virtually.

You can request a therapist who suits your particular needs before the matching process begins, which may be helpful for those who would prefer to speak with a queer therapist and/or a therapist of color. 

Once matched, you can connect with your therapist via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home, and for a cost that’s comparable to most insurance co-pays.

Research suggests that there’s “no difference in effectiveness” between online and in-person therapy, so either can be effective for those seeking mental health support. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

“Robin is amazing. After years of trying to find a therapist who I felt understood the unique issues facing myself as a trans woman, they are a real breath of fresh air.”

Learn More About Robin Sweeney

“Tracey is hands-down the best counselor I’ve ever worked with. She utilizes REBT methods with such ease, I hardly realize she’s doing it! She is very easy to talk to and incredibly supportive. I greatly appreciate our sessions, and I feel like the work we’ve done impacts my life in a positive and tangible way. Her experience with career counseling is apparent, and her cultural competency should be commended. As a trans man, it is often hard to find counselors that walk the talk. Tracey is clearly an active advocate for marginalized communities, and incredibly personable. 11/10, forever grateful for her service.”

Learn More About Tracey Singer


For largely systemic reasons, transgender and gender non-conforming people tend to face significant barriers to receiving both medical and mental health care at higher rates than non-queer individuals. Those who are interested in working toward meaningful change can support organizations like the ones listed above. Trans and gender non-conforming people who are seeking therapy might consider online therapy as a more cost-effective option.

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