WHO Labels Transgender People As Mentally Ill: New ICD Edition Will Declassify Trans Identity As A Mental Disorder

By Samantha Finch, Parent Herald July 29, 10:39 am
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The World Health Organization's current edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) classifies transgender people as mentally ill. That label, however, is bound to change soon now that there are impending changes in WHO's global codebook, which impacts the world's disease diagnostic manuals.

The current edition, ICD-10, was endorsed in 1990, while the upcoming version or ICD-11 is due in 2018, The Washington Post reported. The proposals to declassify transgender identity as a mental disorder have been approved by each committee it has passed through.

New Study Supports Changes In WHO's Global Codebook

A study published on Tuesday in the U.K. medical journal Lancet Psychiatry found evidences that prove being transgender doesn't make people mentally ill. Geoffrey Reed, a professor of psychology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a consultant on ICD-11, and the study's co-author, said a condition is considered as a mental illness when it directly causes distress and dysfunction to a person.

Transgender identity, however, doesn't work this way. The distress experienced by transgender people is caused by social rejection, stereotype, and violence committed against them.

A report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Task Force titled "Injustice at Every Turn" found that 90 percent of transgender people experienced harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination, while 41 percent of them attempted suicide. A study published in the NCBI found that transgender people could also develop post-traumatic stress disorder due to their horrific experiences in the society.

Barriers Occur When Transgender People Are Labeled As Mentally Ill

Reed stressed that when the external factors that caused distress among transgender people are removed, all that's left is feelings of "gender incongruence" or inner conflict. Young people who grew up in supportive environments, on the other hand, may not experience these external factors and would only encounter feelings of incongruence, which means they are not distressed.

In the past, homosexuality was also labeled as a mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The psychiatric disorder guidebook changed that diagnosis in 1973 into "sexual orientation disturbance," and was completely removed in 1987 thanks to the prompting of gay rights activists, The Washington Post noted.

Reed added that classifying transgender people as mentally ill is a form of misappropriation in healthcare services. According to the study, labeling transgender people as mentally ill might push them into the care of psychiatric specialists rather than physical treatments, which they need more. Reed and his co-authors argued that transgender people are more suited in a classification related to sexual health.

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