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Do Parents Have the Right to Seek Help for Their Children?

Who decides what medical or mental health care is best for your child? Would it surprise you to know that in the mental health arena the ‘age of consent’ is only 13 years of age in Washington?  Like laws surrounding abortion, parents of adolescents are potentially cut out of the decision making and mental health care of their teenage children.

When it comes to mental health treatment for issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, it could be even worse.

Conversion therapy, the use of talk therapy to help children suffering from questions of Sexual Orientation or Gender Dysphoria, was banned in Seattle as of August 2016.

The legislation sponsored by Councilmember M. Lorena González made the practice of conversion therapy on minors by licensed medical or mental-health professionals punishable by fines of up to $1,000. It also prohibits the advertising of conversion therapy.

In 2017, the Washington state senate introduced SB5722, which would extend the ban to minors statewide. When the legislature returns early in 2018, the debate is set to continue.  If such a ban were to pass, parents would not be able to seek mental health treatment for their children who may be struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation issues.

The American Psychological Association (APA) calls transgender, an “umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” The diagnosis often assigned these individuals by the clinical community is Gender Dysphoria. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) contains separate criteria for diagnosing it in adults and adolescents versus children.

While it is typically recognized that adult citizens of the United States have full jurisdiction over their own medical choices, those under 18 are considered under the authority of their parents. A debate, on these terms, surrounding the appropriate treatment for children and adolescents who may be transgender is taking shape all around the world.

The Daily Mail recently profiled parents who felt the state-sponsored, National Health Service (NHS) in England was pressuring their kids to go through with medical procedures to change their sex. The article reports that one mother was shocked to find her child being referred to a specialist transgender clinic, after only a 40-minute evaluation. Some of the parents made claims that their children only began hating the biological sex they were born after cases of extreme bullying by other students and that NHS employees refused to listen to their claims.

The rush to label children transgender comes on the heels of the NHS signing a “memorandum of understanding,” which is nearly identical to implementing a ban on conversion therapy. The memorandum makes it illegal for staff to challenge the person’s gender confusion.

It is pertinent to note that the science on this matter has not been settled yet either. There is much debate in the medical community as to whether transgender is a clinical disorder and furthermore if those who don’t adhere to the gender binary deserve protections similar to that which is guaranteed based upon immutable characteristics like race.

Dr. Quentin Vanmeter, a pediatric endocrinologist from the American College of Pediatricians does not view transgenderism as a civil rights issue. He says that transgenderism is a mental health issue, and there is no scientific evidence that it’s a physiological phenomenon. He believes that treating it as if it’s a natural phenomenon and speaking about it as a civil rights issue is doing a disservice to the children struggling with this type of mental illness.

He’s not alone either, former Chief of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Paul McHugh, also believes that being transgender is a psychological problem, not a biological phenomenon. He thinks that transgender individuals should be referred to mental health counseling, not surgery.  A statewide ban such as Seattle’s on talk-therapy for minors dealing with gender dysphoria would make this impossible.

With a degree of doubt cast on the advocacy of LGBT groups painting transgender as a biological phenomenon and not a psychological problem, parents need to be skeptical of hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgery, which hold the potential to alter a child or adolescent’s  life indefinitely.

Parents should have the right to explore all of the options available for their children and adolescents and make the decision that seems most appropriate to them, not the state.

Genevieve Malandra is a contributing writer to Family Policy Institute of Washington.

4 Reasons Suicide Is Increasing Among Young Adults

Suicide is back in the news again.

After seven of its students committed suicide, a Colorado school district last month temporarily pulled from its libraries 13 Reasons Why, the young adult fiction book turned Netflix television teen drama that critics say glamorizes suicide.

The book chronicles the suicide of Hannah Baker, a high school junior who leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes explaining her reasons for committing suicide.

Like Hannah Baker, many young adults are turning to suicide as an escape from the pressures of life. From 2000 to 2015, the suicide rate increased 27% among those aged 20 to 35 (the U.S. average suicide rate among all age groups increased by almost 21% during the same time period). Washington State’s suicide rate is 16% higher than the national average.

 

Two Factors That Fail To Explain The Increasing Suicide Rate

Many experts blame increased economic hardship and inadequate mental health services for the recent rise in suicide. However, these easy explanations misrepresent available data and fall short of adequately explaining the troubling trend.

From a material perspective, life on earth has never been better. Thanks to global trade and extraordinary technological advances, Americans today enjoy a higher standard of living, greater economic security, longer life expectancy, less crime, and more leisure than any other people throughout history. Even the poorest among us live far more prosperous lives than our richest grandparents could have imagined. And let us not forget that Americans living in poverty still boast a higher living standard than the average European.

Additionally, the recent increase in suicide cannot be blamed on undersupplied mental health services. Both federal and state governments have progressively increased mental health funding over recent decades (paradoxically, the inefficient and inflexible bureaucracy created to administer mental health programs and treatments may make it more difficult for those struggling with mental health conditions to receive the care they need).

In exclusively focusing on economic circumstances and mental health funding, we ignore profound cultural shifts that better explain rising suicide rates.

 

Four Reasons Suicide Is Increasing Among Young Adults

Here are four factors likely contributing to the significant increase in suicide among young Americans:

Delayed Marriage: More than ever before, young people are choosing to delay marriage or forgo it entirely. In 1960, the median age at first marriage was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, the median age at first marriage has increased to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. Almost half of 34-year-olds have never been married.

These unmarried millennials sacrifice the benefits that come with being united to a committed partner in marriage. A survey of scientific literature conducted by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute found that married individuals are healthier, happier, and more financially secure than their unmarried peers. They experience greater emotional and psychological well-being than those who are unmarried. Notably, married individuals are less likely to commit suicide.

Increased Worker Mobility: Americans move for work more often than Europeans. Although greater worker mobility boosts the economy and results in better matching of employees and jobs, it can also cause individuals to become detached from communities that help provide belonging, happiness, and emotional and financial support.

Researchers have discovered a link between residential mobility and suicide. “Indeed, residential mobility can be associated with higher levels of stress, crime, poor health, and what sociologists call ‘social disorganization,’” writes Ryan McMaken for the Mises Institute.

Decreased Religiosity: Young Americans have increasingly disconnected from religious institutions over the last few decades, choosing instead to live according to their own “personalized spirituality” or rejecting religion entirely.

A Pew Research Center study published two years ago found that only 28% of millennials born between 1981 and 1996 attend religious services weekly, significantly less than 51% of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945). Younger millennials are also less likely to believe in God (80%) and consider religion to be an important part of their lives (38%).

Unfortunately, by eschewing involvement in religious communities, millennials sacrifice the kinship and solidarity those communities provide. Religion helps provide meaning to life, and religious communities equip individuals with the relationships and support necessary to withstand life’s treacherous seas.

Unsurprisingly, religiously unaffiliated individuals had “significantly more lifetime suicide attempts” than their religiously affiliated peers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study’s authors also concluded that “subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide.”

Postmodernism: Millennials attain higher levels of education than previous generations. This makes them more susceptible to postmodernism, the prevailing worldview taught in higher education.

Postmodernism posits that reality is unknowable and meaningless. In attempting to overthrow traditional values, postmodernism dispenses with objective and transcendent truths that provide individuals with a realistic framework through which to perceive the world. Postmodernists sort everyone into one of two groups: the oppressors and the victims, the latter of which suffer from systemic societal and cultural oppression at the hands of the former.

Survey data indicate a considerable number of millennials have bought into the postmodern worldview propagated by their colleges and universities. Only 40% of those under age 35 believe “right and wrong never change,” and just 4% of millennials hold to a biblical worldview.

Philosopher Richard M. Weaver observed decades ago that “ideas have consequences.” Teaching the next generation that life is meaningless, truth is unknowable, and that tradition and conventional wisdom must be discarded yields predictable results. Such a corrosive worldview will only produce rotting fruit.

 

There Is No Easy Fix

Suicide is increasing because our culture has lost its moorings. We need to acknowledge that the exploding suicide rate among Americans and Washingtonians will not be solved through a growing economy or greater mental health funding. As long as individuals continue to disconnect from the relationships, communities, and truth that provide meaning to life, suicide will continue becoming more prevalent.

There is no easy fix. Reversing the trend depends on effectively confronting the lies accepted by culture and society fueling hopelessness and social disorganization. We must also work to ensure our communities can successfully provide for the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of their members.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.