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The UN’s Health Agency May Finally Declassify Transgender As A Mental Illness

The 1980 designation may soon be history

A new study reveals evidence suggesting the psychological distress felt by transgender people is caused by social stigma, not by mental illness as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) has designated it for 36 years.


Published Tuesday in the Lancet Psychiatry, the study assesses 260 participants receiving transgender-related health services in Mexico City, Mexico. The sample size, predominately assigned a male sex at birth, was interviewed about their medical history, socioeconomic status and identity as a trans individual from adolescence to present day.

According to the authors of the study, the period of adolescence “has been described as a crucial and often difficult period in the lives of transgender people.” That being said, the participants were asked to rate the effects of their psychological distress during childhood on a level of 0 to 100. The data collected was then used to determine how much this distress actually affected the individual’s ability to function normally, using the Sheehan Disability Scale.

Ultimately, the study showed 83 percent of participants attributed their psychological distress as a result of their gender identities, which resulted in 90 percent of the participants being functionally impaired. While researchers concluded the patients were most often functionally impaired in familial relationships, an additional 63 percent of patients were victims of violence and 76 percent had been socially rejected.

Gender identity disorder was first listed as a clinical disorder in 1980 in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), another set of clinical guidelines like the ICD, and was characterized by “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of functioning.”

Researchers behind this study hope that the World Health Organization (WHO), which writes the ICD, will consider the results of the study sufficient support to remove transgender from the ICD in its upcoming revision.

The authors wrote:

“The conceptualization of transgender identity as a mental disorder has contributed to precarious legal status, human rights violations, and barriers to appropriate health care among transgender people. …No other study so far has systematically compared the diagnostic requirements of different classification systems based on transgender people’s descriptions of their own experiences.”

The removal of gender identity disorder from the worldwide list of clinical mental illnesses included in the ICN would be a monumental progression for not only the transgender community but also for human rights. The WHO expects the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to be published in 2018.

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