The role of family doctors
- A new study conducted in New Zealand found that negative experiences with healthcare professionals are associated with an increased risk of mental distress and suicidal thoughts for transgender people.
- In contrast, positive or supportive experiences with primary care physicians (PCPs) reduced the risk of these negative mental health outcomes.
- This study underscores the importance of improving awareness and educating primary care physicians about transgender healthcare.
Studies have consistently shown that transgender people are at higher risk of mental health problems than cisgender people.
A new study found that transgender people who reported supportive experiences with their PCP were less likely to have symptoms of anxiety or depression or suicidal thoughts.
However, only about half of those surveyed reported positive experiences with their PCP, highlighting the importance of training healthcare professionals to improve care for transgender people.
The study appears in the journal family exercise.
Negative interactions with healthcare professionals are common among transgender people. lack of awareness etc
But even small steps that show respect for transgender people, such as using correct gender pronouns and current names, can contribute to a positive healthcare experience.
Previous studies have shown that transgender people’s frequent negative health experiences are associated with a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.
However, the current study is the first to assess the impact of positive or supportive health experiences on the mental health of transgender people in New Zealand.
The researchers used data from the 2018 Counting Ourselves survey, which collects information about the health of transgender people aged 14 and over residing in New Zealand.
The study included 948 transgender people who provided feedback on their negative and positive healthcare and mental health experiences.
Researchers used a standardized questionnaire to rate psychological distress based on the anxiety and depressive symptoms people had experienced over the previous 4 weeks.
Researchers also counted the number of self-harm attempts and frequency of suicidal thoughts or behavior over the past 12 months.
Part of the questionnaire assessed the most common negative experiences people had when dealing with healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses and administrative staff.
It showed that 47% of the participants had to educate healthcare professionals about transgender people in order to receive the necessary care.
Participants also reported that they often encountered unnecessary or intrusive questions from healthcare professionals. Another common experience of transgender people has been healthcare professionals admitting a lack of adequate knowledge about gender-affirming treatments.
These negative health experiences were associated with increased psychological distress and a higher risk of self-harm or suicidal tendencies.
The questions about supportive interactions assessed the positive experiences that transgender people had with their PCP.
The survey found that only 57% of people felt their GP treated them in a similar way to other patients when they sought treatment for reasons unrelated to gender-specific care.
Only 48% of survey participants found their PCPs to be supportive of their gender-affirming health needs.
Less than a quarter of GPs had adequate knowledge of gender-affirming care and about 43% indicated they were willing to acquire the necessary knowledge of gender-affirming care.
Likewise, only 40% of PCPs used the correct gender pronouns and 47% used the person’s current name.
The researchers found that a higher number of supportive experiences with PCP was associated with lower psychological distress and a lower likelihood of having attempted suicide in the previous year.
Each subsequent positive experience with a PCP reduced the risk of attempting suicide by 11%. Likewise, each negative experience was associated with a 20% increase in suicide risk.
The co-author of the study, Dr. Gareth Treharne, a professor of psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said Medical news today:
“These results highlight the importance of considering the protective role of primary care physicians supporting the transgender patients they serve. These protective effects can counter some of the adverse effects of negative healthcare experiences, but there is an urgent need for improvements in aspects of supportive care that are a fundamental human rights issue for transgender people.”
The authors note that GP medical training in New Zealand does not include transgender healthcare training.
The other co-author of the study, Dr. Rona Carroll, a senior lecturer in primary care and general medicine at the University of Otago, said MNT:
“Medical schools have an important role to play in ensuring our future physicians have the knowledge and confidence they need to provide supportive care to their transgender patients, and postgraduate general practice training programs should promote transgender healthcare as a key skill include in their curriculum. The positive impact this can have on patient outcomes is significant and the need is urgent.”
Similarly noted Dr. Treharne: “Further education of primary care physicians is needed, and physicians must take responsibility for their own learning to meet the needs of transgender people.”