New study urges WHO to change transgender health issues from mental illness

#TransLivesMatter seen on the back of a supporter's shirt. Laura Brown/Global News

Transgender people are suffering healthcare and legal setbacks because it’s misdiagnosed by the World Health Organization as a mental illness, a new study suggests.

The study, “Removing transgender identity from the classification of mental disorders,” was done by researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and published on the Lancet Tuesday.

The WHO’s code book, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD ) was last updated in 1990 and an overhaul of the code book is currently in progress and expected to be completed by 2018.

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Currently the ICD lists “Gender identity disorders” under “Mental and behavioural disorders.”

But it’s a classification that severely limits resources for transgender people, because the ICD helps shape health and insurance services in many countries.

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 “The definition of conditions related to transgender identity as mental disorders has been used to justify denial of coverage for these conditions by governments and private health plan,” the study reads.

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It has “also been misused by some governments to deny self-determination and decision making authority to transgender people.”

By interviewing over 250 people in Mexico, researchers proved that being transgender didn’t mean they had a mental disorder.

Instead, they determined that transgender people’s mental states were determined by social experiences and violence. People who reported more family or social dysfunction, for example, were more distressed.

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That means their mental well-being isn’t an “inherent [feature] of transgender identity,” and therefore shouldn’t be classified as a mental illness.
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The study follows Denmark’s de-classification of being transgender as mental illness; earlier this year Danish lawmakers decided to make the change.

Removal or reclassification?

In comparison, homosexuality was also listed under the umbrella of “personality disorder” in 1948, but has since been removed.

But the study argues that the same shouldn’t be done for transgender issues.

“Health conditions … related to transgender identity has been widely, although not universally, viewed as necessary in the current global health context,” it reads.

Study co-author Geoffrey Reed told the Washington Post it’s necessary because it will allow transgender people access to insured medical treatment.

“The risk would be if we took conditions related to gender identity out of the classification altogether, it would undermine the access to health services that transgender people have,” he said.

“They wouldn’t have a diagnostic code that conveyed eligibility.”

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