A new report from the U.S. government calls for an end to the discredited practice known as conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths.
The report released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) comes less than a year after the Obama administration endorsed efforts to ban the practice, which aims to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
"Conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are not effective, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and are not appropriate mental health treatments," said SAMHSA Special Expert on LGBT Affairs Elliot Kennedy.
Instead, the report says, these youngsters should "be supported in their right to explore, define, and articulate their own identity."
Variations in sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are normal, Kennedy told Reuters Health.
There is no evidence to support the use of conversion therapy, and furthermore, the practice is potentially harmful, according to the report, which was developed with the help of a July 2015 panel of experts convened by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Some of the potential harms include increases in depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and poor self-esteem, said Judith Glassgold, associate executive director of the APA's government relations office in Washington, D.C.
Those negative mental health effects may contribute to substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors by some youngsters, she said.
Many practitioners of conversion therapy are unlicensed, and many have religious training rather than medical training, said Dr. Jack Drescher, an expert on LGBT mental health and a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City who was not involved with the report.
It's important, he said, for people "to be informed about the potentials for harm" from conversion therapy.
Four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have already banned the practice among minors as of August 2015, the report says. Another 21 states and the U.S Congress have considered or are considering bans.
Better information, training, and education for behavioral health providers and decreasing stigma and negative attitudes toward LGBT identities also help eliminate harmful practices, it says.
The report includes information for families, educators and care providers on how to support LGBT children, including the use of behavioral health and medical care that takes an affirmative approach.
The report is online (at http://store.samhsa.gov), "so parents can read it," Glassgold said.
Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at The Fenway Institute in Boston, said the report echoes past comments and statements from experts and professional organizations.
"Adolescents are figuring out who they are, and it's important to be supportive and affirming of your child and to engage in that process of identity development in a way . . . that's not harmful to them," said Cahill, who also was not involved in the report.