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Transgender's Classification as 'Mental Disorder' Is Outdated, Study Finds

Researchers suggest World Health Organization change classification

TUESDAY, July 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Being transgender is currently classified as a mental health disorder in the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases (ICD), but a new study suggests that should change.

And, such a change wouldn't be without precedent. The American Psychiatric Association removed gender identity disorder from the latest edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

For the new study, Mexican researchers interviewed 250 transgender people.

The researchers found levels of distress were more strongly influenced by social rejection and violence than by being transgender.

Seventy-six percent said they suffered social rejection due to being transgender. This rejection most often came from family members, followed by schoolmates/co-workers and friends, the study showed.

Nearly two-thirds were victims of violence due to their gender identity, the researchers found.

Family members were responsible for nearly half of the cases of violence. The most common types of violence were mental and physical violence. Some of those surveyed reported sexual violence, the study revealed.

This study is the first of its kind, the researchers said. Others are now being conducted in Brazil, France, India, Lebanon and South Africa, the researchers added.

Findings from the study were published July 26 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

"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," study senior author Geoffrey Reed said in a journal news release. Reed is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"The definition of transgender identity as a mental disorder has been misused to justify denial of health care and contributed to the perception that transgender people must be treated by psychiatric specialists, creating barriers to health care services," he said.

Reed said some governments have used the definition of transgender as a mental health disorder in courts to deny people their rights in matters of child custody, reproduction and changing legal documents.

Study lead investigator Rebeca Robles said, "Our findings support the idea that distress and dysfunction may be the result of stigmatization and maltreatment, rather than integral aspects of transgender identity." Robles is from the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry.

She said these findings need to be confirmed with additional studies before the next approval of the revision of the WHO International Classification of Diseases in 2018.

"Rates of experiences related to social rejection and violence were extremely high in this study, and the frequency with which this occurred within participants' own families is particularly disturbing," Robles said.

"Unfortunately, the level of maltreatment experienced in this sample is consistent with other studies from around the world. This study highlights the need for policies and programs to reduce stigmatization and victimization of this population. The removal of transgender diagnoses from the classification of mental disorders can be a useful part of those efforts," she concluded.

More information

For more about transgender issues, visit GLAAD.

SOURCE: The Lancet Psychiatry, news release, July 26, 2016

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