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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 4, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 40
Conversion therapy can be deadly for Trans people, Harvard study says Associated with suicide attempts
Section One
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Conversion therapy can be deadly for Trans people, Harvard study says Associated with suicide attempts

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School shows that exposure of Transgender people to conversion therapy is associated with thoughts of and attempts at suicide. The study was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Dr. Jack Turban, the study's lead author and a resident physician in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said it was the first study 'to show that gender identity conversion efforts are associated with adverse mental health outcomes, including suicide attempts.'

Turban said that previous reports showing the negative effects of conversion therapy have focused on efforts to change the patient's sexual orientation, but the new information shows it is at least equally damaging to Trans people, if not more so.

'The rate of previous suicide attempts among transgender people in the United States is extremely high, with 41% reporting that they have had that experience,' said study co-author Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Gender Identity Program.

'What this new study shows is that transgender people who are exposed to conversion efforts anytime in their lives have more than double the odds of attempting suicide compared with those who have never experienced efforts by professionals to convert their gender identity,' he said.

Turban said one of the most alarming findings from the study was the even-higher risk of psychological distress for those who reported exposure to conversion therapy during childhood. Those who were subjected to the practice before age 10 were four times more likely to report lifetime suicide attempts than the general Transgender population, according to the findings.

'This is important because some experts continue to advocate for gender identity conversion efforts for young children,' Turban said in a statement.

'We hope our findings contribute to ongoing legislative efforts to ban gender identity conversion efforts.'

Turban added that his new study was especially significant because of its large sample size, with more than 27,000 Transgender people included in the survey.

Seventy-one percent of respondents recalled speaking to a religious adviser or secular therapist about their gender identity, and of those, about 20% said these interactions involved efforts to change their gender identity from Transgender to cisgender.

The study found no difference in the outcome based on whether the effort to change a person's gender identity was conducted by a religious adviser or secular professional. According to the findings, the vast majority of conversion therapy is conducted by secular professionals, like psychologists or counselors, with religious efforts accounting for roughly a third of all conversion therapy efforts reported by this cohort.

'Current training of mental health clinicians in the US does not usually include gender-affirming care as standard curriculum,' Keuroghlian said. 'We hope this study will inspire clinical training programs to revise their standard curricula.'

'All clinicians need to be trained in concepts and terminology related to gender identity, how stigma is related to mental health disparities and best practices for gender affirmation grounded in scientific evidence,' he added.

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