Study finds military service strengthens mental health in transgender people

SEATTLE — Does military service improve the longterm well-being of transgender individuals? A recent study showed that among older transgender adults, those who were veterans showed greater mental stability than those who had no military experience.

Researchers at the University of Washington turned to a longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which assesses how various life events and situations play roles in the lives of the gay and transgender population.

Military helmets
A recent study finds that older transgender adults with military experience show greater mental well-being than those without hadn’t served at all. (Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash)

For their research, the authors looked at 2,450 participants between the ages of 50 and 100. Of those individuals, 183 identified as transgender, and about a quarter of that group were veterans.

It’s believed that anywhere from a tenth to three-quarters of one percent of the estimated 2 million active service members in the United States military identify as transgender, while a 2014 study reported the same for about 134,000 veterans.

When comparing transgender individuals who had served in the military compared to those who didn’t, the veterans showed lower depression rates and overall greater mental health-related quality of life.

Lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former doctoral student at UW, says the challenges that service members take on and their regimented way of life allows them to build up a level of resilience that the general population aren’t equipped with.

“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” he explains in a university release. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”

Researchers hope their findings can help lead to better policies and programs for transgender service members. Of course, such findings could also help LGBT individuals interested in serving feel more comfortable about applying, too.

The study’s findings were published earlier this year in a supplement of the journal The Gerontologist.