Left-leaning media outlets misled their readers when they touted a new study that purported to show mental health benefits of child sex change treatments, according to one of the first journalists to cover the subject.
The study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data collected between 2016-2019 from four prominent pediatric gender clinics and found that depression only lessened for females after taking testosterone, which has known antidepressant effects; the males in the study, who were conversely given estrogen which does not have antidepressant properties, saw no improvement to their well-being. Despite this, at least six news outlets lauded the new study as proof that “gender-affirming care” improves teens’ mental health, without distinguishing between the profoundly different results of females from males.
“Depression and anxiety symptoms decreased significantly, and life satisfaction increased significantly, among youth designated female at birth but not among those designated male at birth,” the discussion section of the study pointed out.
Media outlets, including The Washington Post, ABC News, STAT News, Popular Science, HealthDay, and The Eagle, as well as many individual posts on social media, have been accused of misrepresenting the results of the study by insinuating that the mental health of both sexes improved after cross-sex hormone treatment. Absent from the glowing coverage from media outlets are the two study participants who committed suicide and 11 who struggled with suicidal ideation.
Jesse Singal, one of the first journalists to report on the rapid proliferation of trans-identification among teenage girls in 2018, called the media coverage of the study by leftwing outlets “irresponsible.”
“Journalists continue to botch this SO badly,” said Singal, noting the lack of caveats, weaknesses, and missing context of different outcomes between the sexes.
“Testosterone and estrogen are totally different chemicals, and [testosterone] is believed to have antidepressant effects,” he added.
Androgens, including testosterone, are the hormones that give men their secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, deeper voices, more upper-body strength, and other male-related traits developed during puberty. Testosterone is frequently prescribed to adolescent females who “identify” as transgender “boys” and has well-documented mood-boosting properties. According to a 2016 cross-sex hormonal treatment study of patients with gender dysphoria, androgens “can reduce mental distress, promoting feelings of euphoria and energy.”
Also missing from the study are confounding variables that may have contributed to females’ improved well-being, including the impact of psychotropic medication like antidepressants and psychotherapy, which have been independently shown to improve mental health. Researchers have also posed a “placebo effect” hypothesis, in which the expectation of benefits from treatment has been shown to induce psychological improvement.
Another concerning revelation is the study’s opening line, which reports that “transgender and nonbinary youth comprise 2 to 9% of high-school-aged persons in the United States.” The 9% figure comes from a 2021 analysis of more than 3,000 surveys on trans-identification in urban school environments.
The study was funded by a research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that seeks to examine the impact of early medical treatment on trans-identified youth. Participants were recruited from well-known pediatric gender clinics, including the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles from July 2016 through June 2019 for the Trans Youth Care–United States (TYCUS) Study.
Short-term follow-ups, like this two-year study, by design, are unable to capture long-term feelings about medical transition. Even the Dutch studies, often hailed as the “gold standard” of evidence supporting medically transitioning trans-identified children, were found to be extremely deficient, according to a new analysis.
Claims from past studies about the clear mental health benefits of “gender affirming” medical treatments for trans-identifying youth are often exaggerated and misleading. Leor Sapir, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, found that claims of causality frequently cited by news outlets are not supported by evidence and that some of the studies commonly touted as demonstrating positive mental health outcomes show no or possibly even negative association between hormones and mental health.