Being Transgender Is No Longer Considered A ‘Mental Disorder’ By World Health Organization

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Image: iStock / Aneese

In the year 2019, we know enough about gender identity to understand that sometimes people are assigned the wrong gender at birth. And sometimes people identify with a different gender than the one they were assigned. It’s not rocket science, but it IS actual biological science. However, gender identity is still very much a topic that people either can’t or won’t try to understand. It doesn’t help that the World Health Organization has always classified gender dysphoria as a mental disorder. The classification meant it was on par with other mental and behavioral disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. That gave people all the ammunition they needed to dismiss transgender people as mentally ill. This, of course, only perpetuates the stigma around gender dysphoria. But the WHO is changing the way they classify gender identity, which is some good news that took way too long.

Transgender and other gender identity issues will longer be considered mental disorders in the new WHO manual of diagnoses.

The World Health Organization puts out a manual of diagnoses, and updates it on a regular basis. The manual is used worldwide by health and medical professionals. In the previous version, transgender and other gender identity issues were classified as mental and behavioral disorders. However the latest version, ICD-11, lists “gender incongruence” under a chapter on sexual health. The WHO defines gender incongruence as “a marked and persistent incongruence between a person’s experienced gender and assigned sex”. What it is NOT, however, is a mental illness.

The change is being hailed as “liberating” for transgender people around the world.

Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, explains the change. Dr. Say says, “It was taken out from mental health disorders because we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition, and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.” Graeme Reid is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights director at campaign group Human Rights Watch. Reid says the changes made by the WHO would have “a liberating effect on transgender people worldwide. Governments should swiftly reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis.”

Considering homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 1973, it’s not surprising it took this long for the WHO to make this change. Regardless, it’s a huge step forward for trans people and rights.