Democrats want Dr. Rachel Levine & HHS to issue trans youth mental health guidance

People protesting and a sign says "PROTECT TRANS KIDS"
Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a group of seven Democratic Senators have asked the U.S. Department of Health to provide guidance to mental health care professionals on how best to serve trans and gender expansive (TGE) youth.

In a letter dated September 30, the senators urged Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine – the first out transgender administration official confirmed by the Senate – and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, to provide guidance specifically for inpatient care.

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The senators acknowledged that guidance is needed across all forms of mental health care for trans and gender expansive youth, but said inpatient care is the most pressing, as a lack of knowledge on working with these youth can lead to delays in care.

“There is a dearth of guidance relative to boarding TGE adolescent patients for inpatient or community-based residential mental health care,” the letter reads.

“As a result, providers report delays in psychiatric emergency departments while administrators explore where to place TGE youth needing inpatient care due to questions such as who might be an appropriate roommate and what restroom a patient should use.”

The senators said guidance is needed for every step of the process of caring for trans and gender expansive youth, from how they should be treated at the front desk to respecting their pronouns to keeping accurate medical records.

To express the urgency of this matter, they also referred to the Trevor Project’s most recent youth mental health survey, which found that over half of trans and non-binary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year.

“TGE youth may experience a host of mental health burdens including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts,” the senators wrote, “largely due to societal stigma and lack of access to care. Transgender youth who are 15 and older can be particularly vulnerable, and would benefit from specialized support beyond their mental health needs.”

The letter also cited precedent for the U.S. government providing similar guidance, such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s guidance for working with unaccompanied children and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s guidelines for organizations treating LGBTQ people with substance abuse issues.

The letter also encouraged HHS to “include the voices of these youth at the table” when creating guidance.

In addition to Murphy, the senators who signed the letter are Jeff Merkeley (D-OR); Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM); Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Tina Smith (MN); and Richard Blumenthal (CT).

A spokesperson from Dr. Levine’s office told the Los Angeles Blade, “We have received the letter and will be reviewing it.”

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