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Transgender conversion therapy linked to psychological distress, study says

By Tauren Dyson
Transgender conversion therapy linked to psychological distress, study says
Conversion therapy may be leading more transgender people to attempt suicide, new research shows. Photo by tomertu/Shutterstock

Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Conversion therapy may be leading more transgender people to attempt suicide, new research shows.

Those who underwent gender identity conversion attempts were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts in the last 12 months or severe mental distress in the previous month, according to research published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. Previous work has shown about 180,000 people in the United States have gone through some form of this therapy.

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"One of the most alarming findings from this study was the association between exposure to gender identity conversion efforts during childhood and a four-fold increased odds of lifetime suicide attempts," study lead author Jack Turban, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a news release. "This is important because some experts continue to advocate for gender identity conversion efforts for young children."

The researchers pulled data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey for more than 27,000 transgender people.

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About 71 percent reported having spoken to a therapist or religious adviser about their gender identity. Another 20 percent said they were encouraged to convert to cisgender.

They found transgender adults who received conversion therapy efforts earlier than age 10 had a higher risk of attempting suicide throughout their lifetimes than others. Another recent study published by the same researchers showed more than 13 percent of transgender people have undergone some form of gender conversion counseling from a therapist or clergy member.

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Overall suicide attempts among transgender people who've never gone through conversion therapy also remain high.

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"The rate of previous suicide attempts among transgender people in the United States is extremely high, with 41 percent reporting that they have had that experience, " study senior author Alex Keuroghlian, who runs the National LGBT Health Education Center at The Fenway Institute, said in a news release.

So far, 18 states have banned conversion therapy for transgender people.

"We hope our findings contribute to ongoing legislative efforts to ban gender identity conversion efforts," Turban said.

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