Study finds ‘conversion therapy’ costs U.S. an estimated $9.23 Billion a year

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly's Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection. Made available to media outlets via Creative Commons. No derivatives, no commercial use. See guidelines here:

A new study from The Trevor Project has found that the harm “conversion therapy” does on LGBTQ youth in the U.S. costs the country an estimated $9.23 billion annually.

Research scientists at The Trevor Project, in partnership with health economists at Cytel, published the peer-reviewed study Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. The full article, “Humanistic and Economic Burden of Conversion Therapy on LGBTQ Youth in the United States: A Systematic Literature Review and an Economic Evaluation,” can be found here.

Conversion therapy refers to a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The study estimates that 508,892 LGBTQ youth in the U.S. were at risk of being subjected to conversion therapy last year, and that the direct cost of conversion therapy annually is an estimated $650 million. However, the study finds that the harms associated with the practice, such as substance abuse and negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts, are much higher — an estimated $8.58 billion annually. 

“This alarming study illustrates that subjecting LGBTQ young people to conversion therapy continues to have deep and detrimental costs from both a humanistic and economic standpoint,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director at The Trevor Project. “The Trevor Project urges policymakers to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of this so-called ‘therapy’ and to also expand access to LGBTQ-affirming therapy as a means to empower young people to accept themselves for who they are and promote positive health outcomes. Doing so would drastically reduce these reported economic burdens.”

Illinois banned conversion therapy in 2015. Every leading medical and scientific association including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Education Association have strongly and uniformly rejected conversion therapy for minors, citing its harmful effects on the long-term mental health of LGBTQ youth. 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have taken action against conversion therapy.

UCLA’s Williams Institute found in 2018 that more than 698,000 American adults have endured conversion therapy since childhood.

“The mental health risks of conversion therapy have long been suspected, but this scientific research quantifies, for the first time, the staggering cost of this therapy in financial terms,” said Dr. Anna Forsythe, principal scientist for the study. “Our study uses the most advanced economic techniques and analysis to comprehensively review the data, and to systematically uncover the significant harms of conversion therapy. It is our hope that this peer-reviewed analysis can be an objective tool to help decision makers evaluate the massive impact this therapy continues to exact on not only the victims, but on society as a whole.”

This is the first known study to apply a comprehensive model to assess the socioeconomic impacts of conversion therapy in the U.S.

“We know conversion therapy has long been a burden on LGBTQ young people and their families, as the practice has consistently been associated with poor mental health and greater risk for suicide. But the economic costs this practice has on society are just starting to be understood,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy & Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “We must ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are never again spent on this dangerous and discredited practice and that we are instead investing in LGBTQ-inclusive health and education programs to uplift the well-being of LGBTQ youth.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, capturing the experiences of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth across the U.S., found that 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18.