It’s no secret that conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific « therapy » that seeks to « cure » an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a deeply harmful practice. And now, a new study has corroborated the harmful effects of this discredited practice, finding that young LGBTQ people subjected to this so-called therapy were more likely to face « severe » mental health problems. 47% of recipients experienced severe psychological distress (compared to 34% of LGBTQ people who did not undergo conversion therapy), 65% suffered from depression (compared to 27%), 67% faced substance abuse (compared to 50%) and 58% attempted suicide (compared to 39%).
the study was published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics Monday. It was conducted from December 1, 2020 to February 15, 2021 and involved a systematic review of published literature on conversion therapy. These cases detailed the number of people undergoing conversion therapy, the forms of therapy received, and the accompanying adverse effects, including anxiety, severe psychological distress, depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and death. These cases included 190,695 LGBTQ people, 12% of whom underwent conversion therapy. The average age of individuals when they were subjected to the practice was 25 years old. The researchers also found that approximately 508,892 young people were at risk of undergoing conversion therapy last year (these higher numbers are not reflected in the previous figure because not all cases of conversion therapy are documented) .
The researchers also found that while there were significant mental health impacts, there were also additional economic costs associated with conversion therapy, with the practice draining the country of billions of dollars. The researchers found that the annual cost of conversion therapy among 4.5 million LGBTQ youth in the United States was approximately $650.16 million. For the harms associated with conversion therapy, including substance abuse and suicide attempts, the total economic cost was approximately $9.23 billion per year.
According to The United Nations (UN), conversion therapy aims to transform a non-heterosexual individual into a heterosexual individual or to transform a transgender or gender non-conforming individual into a cisgender individual. The practice, unfortunately, takes place all over the world, in at least 68 countries. In the USA, 20 states have banned conversion therapy for minors, however, this legislation does not restrict the practice among religious providers. This exclusion, along with other states that have yet to pass the laws, leaves a significant number of LGBTQ people without legal protection from conversion therapy. For years, the UN has urged world leaders to ban conversion therapy, noting that it has no medical justification and threatens the health of LGBTQ people. In 2016, the UN human rights council founded a mandate protect people who are victims of violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This mandate specifically included people affected by conversion therapy. More than 1,300 organizations in 161 countries expressed their support for the renewal of the mandate in 2021, and only a small number of member states of the Human Rights Council opposed it. Further important action must be taken against conversion therapy, in the United States and around the world, especially when it comes to religious organizations that continue to practice conversion therapy even in the face of condemnation.