WHO May Stop Classifying Transgender ID as Mental Disorder

New guidebook will likely make big update
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2016 8:11 AM CDT
WHO May Stop Classifying Transgender ID as Mental Disorder
A new designation for gender identity in the WHO guidebook?   (Shutterstock)

For years, being transgender has been considered a mental disorder that's listed in the World Health Organization's "International Classification of Diseases" guidebook under "gender identity disorders." But now the WHO is considering declassifying transgender identity as such in the guide's new edition, the first update in more than 25 years, the New York Times reports. "The intention [of the declassification] is to reduce barriers to care," a WHO-affiliated psychologist says. Time notes that keeping gender identity classified as a psychiatric disorder could keep individuals from seeking physical treatment if desired, as well as lead to discrimination in everything from child custody cases to the signing of legal documents. The WHO change would be similar to the evolution seen in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders over the years: Gender identity started out in the "sexual deviations" category in the late '60s and went through a few more incarnations before its current "gender dysphoria" status in the manual's fifth edition.

A study in the Lancet Psychiatry journal that's bolstered the move to change WHO's designation found most of the distress surrounding being transgender was related to the treatment by others rather than any inherent distress—"a slope leading from stigma to sickness," a World Professional Association for Transgender Health board member notes. A press release says researchers hope to boost their findings with more studies. Transgender status won't be removed from the WHO guidebook completely, even if the declassification is eventually approved by all involved parties: It will simply be moved over to "conditions related to sexual health." But although some have raised objections to that, a New York Medical College psychiatrist explains lacking a code could hamper obtaining insurance payments for medical care. The new WHO guidebook is set to come out in May 2018. (The Pentagon recently made an announcement about transgender service members.)

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