Gender Identity Change Efforts Are Associated with Depression, Panic Disorder, and Suicide Attempts in South Korean Transgender Adults

Hyemin Lee, Don Operario, Arjee J. Restar, Sungsub Choo, Ranyeong Kim, Yun Jung Eom, Horim Yi, Seung Sup Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Gender identity change efforts (GICEs), sometimes referred to as "conversion therapy,"are considered pseudoscientific and unethical practices that are not supported by the existing scientific literature. However, a substantial portion of transgender people face such practices during their lives. We assessed lifetime exposure to GICEs and its associations with mental health indicators among transgender adults in South Korea. Methods: We analyzed a nationwide cross-sectional survey of 566 Korean transgender adults conducted in October 2020. Lifetime exposure to GICEs was classified as follows: "never had GICE-related experiences,""received a referral, but did not undergo GICEs,"and "undergone GICEs."We assessed mental health indicators, including past-week depressive symptoms; medical diagnosis or treatment of depression and panic disorder; and past 12-month suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and self-harm. Results: Of the total participants, 12.2% had "received a referral, but did not undergo GICEs,"and 11.5% had "undergone GICEs."Compared with those who had "never had GICE-related experiences,"participants who had "undergone GICEs"showed significantly higher prevalence of depression (adjusted prevalence ratio [aPR]=1.34, 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.11-1.61), panic disorder (aPR=2.52, 95% CI=1.75-3.64), and suicide attempts (aPR=1.73, 95% CI=1.10-2.72). However, we did not find significant associations between having "received a referral, but did not undergo GICEs"and mental health indicators. Conclusion: Given our findings suggest that lifetime exposure to GICEs may harm transgender adults' mental health, legal restrictions should be imposed to ban GICEs in South Korea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-281
Number of pages9
JournalTransgender Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jun 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was partially supported by the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea. The first author (H.L.) was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (NRF-2020R1A6A3A13060799). The third author (A.J.R.) was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (T32AI102623). The funding organizations had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2023, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers 2023.


  • South Korea
  • conversion therapy
  • gender identity change efforts
  • mental health
  • transgender persons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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