Germany just passed a nationwide ban on gay conversion therapy for minors
via Soonfeed Europe / Twitter

Gay conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It's most often pushed onto teenagers by religious parents who can't accept their child's sexuality and believe that it can be prayed away or altered through therapy.

These practices can include electroshock therapy and sometimes involve a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities.

Not only are these practices completely inhumane but studies show they are ineffective.


A 2007 report by an American Psychological Association task force found that "results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through [sexual orientation change efforts]."

Conversion therapy enacts a tremendous psychological toll on teens and has been shown to lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.

Archibald Jude / Flickr

One of the most traumatizing elements of the therapy is that teen believe they are being rejected by their families who do not support their sexuality. These teens are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide. Nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression and three times more likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

Due to its overwhelmingly negative psychological effects, gay conversion therapy is banned in Switzerland and parts of Australia, Canada, and the U.S.

Germany has just joined the group of countries with bans on the practice. The country's parliament passed a law making conversion therapy illegal for anyone under the age of 18.

Before the law was passed approximately 1,000 German teens were forced into conversion therapy every year in Germany.

Those who break the law can face up to a year in person or a €30,000 ($32,535) fine.

The parliament passed a strong bill so that it could stand during court challenges and let the LGBT community know that the practice is unacceptable.

"They should feel strengthened when the state when society when Parliament makes it clear: we do not want that in this country," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

Some critics argue that the law didn't go far enough. Germany's Green party believes that the law should extend to those 26 years of age. The Left Party believes it should be illegal for anyone 27 and under.

In the U.S., 21 states have laws that ban conversion therapy for minors in some form or another. Twenty-nine states have no law or policy. According to LGBTMap, approximately 50% of the country's LGBT population lives in states with no laws or policies banning conversion therapy for minors.

The American Medical Association announced last November that it supports a country-wide ban on gay conversion therapy. "It is clear to the AMA that the conversion therapy needs to end in the United States given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people," said AMA board member William E. Kobler in a statement.

Last year, Democratic Representative Ted Lieu of California introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2019 which would ban the practice throughout the entire country. It has 135 Democratic co-sponsors and awaits a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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