The World Health Organisation is considering removing transgender identity from its list of mental illness.
Calls for the WHO to look at reclassifying transgender identity came following a study led by the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico, published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, which suggested transgender people struggled to access health care services due to the classification.
“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 the study’s senior author Professor Geoffrey Reed, of 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.
“The definition has even been misused by some governments to deny self-determination and decision-making authority to transgender people in matters ranging from changing legal documents to child custody and reproduction.”
The study interviewed 250 transgender people in Mexico and found that violence and social rejection rather than questions about their gender identity led to “distress and dysfunction”.
Researchers will now carry out the same study in other countries.
The WHO is reportedly considering the reclassification when it revises its list of mental and behavioural disorders for 2018, and there has allegedly not been any opposition to the reclassification of transgender identity from within the organisation.
It is hoped that the mental illness reclassification would help to remove the stigma experienced by transgender people.
The study’s lead investigator Dr Rebeca Robles, from the National Institute of Psychiatry, added:
“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.
“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.”