By Amla Pisharody
For decades, the World Health Organisation has listed “Transgender identity” as a mental disorder, included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codebook. The new ICD-11, though, might declassify “transgender identity” as a mental disorder based on the findings of a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, written by researchers at the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry. It will be reclassified under ‘Conditions Related to Sexual Health.’
“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,” said Geoffry Reed, co-author of the study, in a public release. “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 added.
The study involved interviewing 250 trans people in 2014, in Mexico City. They were asked about their childhood, their gender identities, and what reactions they had got for identifying as trans from their work places, schools, and families. One of the factors that determine psychiatric disorder is “distress and dysfunction”. The study, however, found that the major cause for distress in the case of trans folk was not gender identity itself, but social rejection, family relationship problems, and stigmatisation. Seventy-six percent of the participants of the study reported that they faced social rejection, and 63 percent said they had been victims of violence because of their trans identity. “Our findings support the idea that distress and dysfunction may be the result of stigmatization and maltreatment, rather than integral aspects of transgender identity” said Rebecca Robles, the lead author of the study, in a statement.
Instead of being removed from the ICD, the term is being reclassified so that it will improve trans folk’s access to health care.
“I am glad they [WHO] have done this finally,” said Anjali Gopalan from the Naz Foundation in Delhi to Scroll.in. “If you do not consider homosexuality a disease, why consider transgender identity one? It [the study] also clearly states that the problem is from external sources, and not from within.”
The study is now being conducted in Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa, before the ICD revision that comes out in 2018. In India, the study will be replicated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, but only with the hijra community (only male-to-female transgender individuals).