Metro Weekly

Study: Transgender identity should not be classified as a “mental disorder”

W.H.O. and APA urged to remove classification of gender dysphoria from their respective lists of mental disorders

The Transgender Pride Flag - Photo: Monica Helms, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Transgender Pride Flag – Photo: Monica Helms, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mental health issues among transgender individuals are largely fueled by stigma, rather than transgender identity itself, a recent study has found. As a result, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) is considering dropping transgenderism from its list of mental disorders.

Researchers interviewed 250 transgender individuals aged 18-65, the majority of whom were females assigned male sex at birth, reports Medical News Today. They were asked whether they had experienced discomfort related to their gender identity and any  psychological distress, such as depression, social rejection, or violence.

Eighty-three percent of the respondents reported psychological distress, mainly depression. Seventy-six percent experience social rejection, and 63 percent reported being the victim of physical, psychological or sexual violence, due to their gender identity.

The study’s results, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found that a person’s gender incongruence was not predictive of psychological distress. However, social rejection and whether an individual had experienced violence directed at them were more reliable predictors of whether a person would exhibit psychological problems.

The study provides support for a proposal that the W.H.O. stop classifying transgenderism as a mental disorder in its next edition of its codebook, known as the International Classification of Diseases (I.C.D.), which is expected to be approved in May 2018, according to The New York Times. It has also sparked calls for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to change its classification of gender dysphoria as a mental disorder in its current version of its major guidebook, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.).

“The definition of transgender identity as a mental disorder has been misused to justify denial of healthcare and contributed to the perception that transgender people must be treated by psychiatric specialists, creating barriers to healthcare services,” Professor Geoffrey Reed of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the study’s lead author, told the Times. “The definition has even been misused by some governments to deny self-determination and decision-making authority to transgender people in matters ranging from changing legal documents to child custody and reproduction.”

While the APA is being lobbied to remove gender dysphoria from the D.S.M. entirely, the W.H.O. is being encouraged to move gender dysphoria from the section of the I.C.D. on mental disorders to a separate section. That is because the I.C.D. is used to classify all diseases and conditions, not just psychiatric disorders. And transgender individuals seeking things like hormone treatment or gender confirmation surgery have largely been successful in getting their treatments covered by insurance because of the recognition of gender dysphoria as a legitimate medical condition.

The removal of transgenderism from the D.S.M. and its move to a separate section of the I.C.D. would represent a big step forward for the transgender community. On a medical level, it could help reduce stigma, encouraging more transgender people to seek treatment for depression, anxiety, or other forms of psychological distress that stem from social rejection. On a political level, it would blunt a line of attack — that transgender individuals are mentally disturbed — used primarily by social conservatives to push for anti-transgender initiatives or halt any pro-LGBT legislation.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com