The authors of the study suggest that gender reassignment surgery may increase psychiatric problems for some people and decrease them for other people.
The study looked at the medical records of 104 people who had sex reassignment surgery in Denmark between 1978 and 2000.
They found that there was no statistically significant difference between the number of psychiatric diagnoses before surgery and after surgery.
In addition, the people who had diagnoses before surgery were different from the people who had diagnoses after surgery. Only 6.7% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis both before and after surgery while 27.9% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis before surgery and 22.1% had one afterwards.
According to the authors “this suggests that generally SRS may reduce psychological morbidity for some individuals while increasing it for others.”
The study also found that:
Psychiatric diagnoses were over-represented both before and after surgery (i.e. the group had more psychiatric issues than the general population).
Trans men (born female) had a significantly higher number of psychiatric diagnoses overall; there were no other statistically significant differences between trans men and trans women.
At the same time “significantly more psychiatric diagnoses were found before SRS for those assigned as female at birth.”
10 people had died at an average age of 53.5 years.
Questions for the Future
The most important question is, of course, how can we make sure that SRS does not increase psychiatric problems in the future?
Is it a question of better screening to identify gender dysphoria?
Do people need more support and counseling after surgery?
Should some people transition without getting surgery?
Were poor surgical outcomes linked to psychiatric problems?
Could low hormone levels after surgery cause problems for some people?
Were people’s problems caused by the surgery or some other aspect of transition that happened after surgery?
Or to put it another way, how do we identify which people might benefit from surgery and which might be hurt by it? or do we need to make other changes to prevent new psychiatric diagnoses after surgery?
It would also be helpful to know more about the specific psychiatric diagnoses before and after surgery. Are we seeing increases in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or what?
How did the patients whose mental health improved compare to those whose mental health got worse? Were they older or younger? What were their life circumstances?
What does it mean that trans men had more psychiatric diagnoses before surgery? Was surgery more beneficial for them than for trans women or did trans men just have more psychiatric problems overall?
How long after surgery did people get the new psychiatric diagnoses?
More about the study:
Only the abstract of the study is available online, so it is hard to interpret some of their results.
The abstract gives few further details on their methodology, but a similar study of physical illnesses and death looked at the records of 56 trans women (born male) and 48 trans men (born female). The follow-up period began when people received permission for surgery. The group used in the other study represented 98% of all people who officially had SRS in Denmark from 1978 to 2000.