The American study from the Family Acceptance Project is the first to look at the role and impact of parents and others in so-called ‘conversion therapy’ efforts to change LGBT adolescents’ sexual orientation.
The research, which was published in the Journal of Homosexuality, found that both home-based parent and external sexual orientation conversion interventions contribute to multiple health and adjustment problems in young adulthood.
These include higher levels of depression and suicidal behavior, as well as lower levels of self-esteem, social support and life satisfaction, and lower levels of education and income in young adulthood, compared with LGBT young people who did not experience conversion efforts.
Alarmingly, the researchers found that rates of attempted suicide by LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were more than double (48%) the rate of LGBT young adults who reported no conversion experiences (22%).
Suicide attempts nearly tripled for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and intervention efforts by therapists and religious leaders (63%).
The costs of conversion therapy
In addition, levels of depression more than doubled (33%) for LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation compared with those who reported no conversion experiences (16%). It more than tripled (52%) for LGBT young people who experienced both home-based and external conversion therapy.
Sexual orientation change experiences during adolescence were also associated with lower young adult socioeconomic status: less educational attainment and lower weekly income.
“Although parents and religious leaders who try to change a child’s LGBT identity may be motivated by attempts to ‘protect’ their children, these rejecting behaviors instead undermine an LGBT child’s sense of self-worth, contribute to self-destructive behaviors that significantly increase risk and inhibit self-care which includes constricting their ability to make a living,” said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University and lead author.
“It is clear that there are public health costs of ‘change’ efforts for LGBT adolescents over the long-term. The kind of change we really need is family education and intervention,” added study co-author, Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Regents Professor, University of Texas at Austin.
Earlier this year, the Williams Institute estimated that around 700,000 LGBTQ adults in the US have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including about 350,000 who received it as adolescents.
The World Psychiatric Association and many other mental health bodies have asserted that trying to “cure” LGBTQ people doesn’t work and is both dangerous and unethical. The UK government has announced its plans to ban conversion therapy. In April, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) reaffirmed its condemnation of conversion therapy.