Transgender identity is not a mental illness, study says

© Jonathan Drake
People who identify as transgender should not be considered to have a mental health disorder as many professionals have assumed for decades, a study has found.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently lists transgender identity as a mental health disorder, as was previously the case with homosexuality.

The report, ‘Removing transgender identity from the classification of mental disorders’, says the distress experienced by many is primarily a result of social rejection and violence, not solely the result of being transgender.

The distinction matters because it has implications for how transgender people are treated in a healthcare setting and how they are viewed by society.

The findings, published in UK medical journal the Lancet, show that viewing transgender people as having a mental illness might force them into psychiatric care rather than the physical care they need.

A report published by a UK parliamentary committee earlier this year found as many as 650,000 Britons are “gender fluid” to some degree.

The Commons Women and Equalities Committee heard how transphobia undermines careers, incomes, living standards, and mental and physical health.

A third of transgender adults and “gender variant” young people attempt suicide, the committee found.

Changing the classification would have an impact on how transgender people are treated by the medical establishment, the report said.

“Stigma associated with both mental disorder and transgender identity has contributed to the precarious legal status, human rights violations and barriers to appropriate care among transgender people,” senior author Professor Geoffrey Reed of the National Autonomous University of Mexico told the Guardian.

“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.

“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.”

The authors of the study argue that being transgender might be better classified as a condition related to sexual health.

The researchers interviewed 250 transgender people in Mexico City.

Some 76 percent of participants reported experiencing social rejection and 63 percent said they were victims of sexual, physical or psychological violence as a result of their gender identity.

The study will be repeated in Brazil, France, India, Lebanon and South Africa, according to the researchers.