main article image
(nito100/istock)

The WHO No Longer Sees Transgender as a Mental Illness, And Neither Should You

MIKE MCRAE
21 JUN 2018

This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released an updated version of their great big catalogue of sickness, the International Classification of Diseases.

While obsessive computer gaming has attracted attention as a new condition, another monumental change worth noticing is the inclusion of 'gender incongruence' in a new chapter on sexual health, taking it out of its previous category of mental health.

 

This shift has been a long time coming, with diagnostic trends in recent years moving away from labelling as mentally unwell the people whose assigned gender conflicts with their identity.

Lale Say, coordinator of the Adolescents and at-Risk Populations Team at the (WHO) explains that the change follows increased knowledge on the health of transgender people.

"It was taken out from the mental health disorders because we had a better understanding that this wasn't actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma," she says.

You can hear her full explanation below:

The new draft of the International Classification of Diseases – or ICD-11 – will slowly replace the previous codified compendium which came out in the early 1990s, coming into effect in 2022.

It's not the first time the WHO has adjusted its position on stigmatised biological conditions, with homosexuality gradually moving from a classification as a sexual deviation in ICD-6 to a focus on general discomfort over one's sexuality in ICD-10.

Similarly, the adjustment here aims to focus attention less on gender variant behaviour, and more on the wellbeing of individuals experiencing conflict.

 

It's a small but important step for the roughly one-in-every-two-hundred or so individuals whose gender doesn't line up with what they were designated at birth.

Leaving gender incongruence out of the ICD completely would risk depriving people of beneficial medical services that could lessen suffering.

But no longer seeing it as a mental illness will not only open new pathways for assistance, it will hopefully change how the rest of the world sees transgender people. And it's not a moment too soon.

Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.