Study calls for trans identification to be removed from list of mental illnesses

Kaitlyn Hayes July 27, 2016
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Identifying as transgender may no longer be classified as a mental health disorder following a recent study.

After the first of several field trials, a recently released study recommends the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) remove transgender identity from its current list of mental illnesses.

The change is under review for the 2018 edition of the W.H.O. codebook, which classifies diseases and influences the treatment of patients across the globe.

The study, led by the National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de le Fuente Muñiz, consisted of interviews with 250 trans people that found their distress and dysfunction were linked to experiences of social rejection and violence – not to having gender identity issues.


The motion to move the mental health label from transgender identity has not faced opposition from W.H.O., but other parts of the proposed change are stirring debate.

The proposal would not take transgender out of the codebook completely because the classification is widely used for billing and insurance coverage of medical services and for conducting research, but many are unsure as to where the identity should be moved to.

Under the current proposed change, trans identification would be relocated to a newly created category: “Conditions related to sexual health.”

However, many disagree with this move because being transgender has nothing to do with sex.

Dr. Griet De Cuypere, a psychiatrist at the Center of Sexology and Gender at University Hospital in Belgium and a board member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, believes giving it a more separate designation would be better.

Others are taking issue with the proposed change of name, from “transsexualism” to “gender incongruence,” chosen to try to express “a discrepancy between a person’s experienced gender identity and their body,” said Dr Geoffrey Reed, a psychologist who is coordinating the mental health and behavior disorders section in the upcoming edition of the codebook.

The issue is that “incongruence” has different connotations in different languages.

“In English, it sounds kind of neutral – my association is with geometry,” Dr Reed said. “But in Spanish, it sounds very bad, it sounds kind of psychotic.”

So, the proposal in Spanish is “gender discordance,” which, he said, “in English sounds really bad.”


Though the road to change remains long, researchers see promise in continued studies and more understanding of the lives of trans individuals.

The lead investigator, Dr Rebeca Robles of the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry, said, “The next step is to confirm this in further studies in different countries, ahead of the approval of the W.H.O. revision to International Classification of Diseases in 2018.”

In February, a US study found that trans children whose families help with their transition have positive mental health outcomes.

Then in May, Denmark became the first country to pull ‘transgenderism’ as a recognised mental illness.

Related topics: LGBT, mental health, Trans

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