Gender Dysphoria Is Not A Mental Illness, According To The WHO

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared that Gender Dysphoria, now referred to as Gender Incongruence, would no longer be classified as a mental illness, a monumental move for the transgender community. Prior to this decision, Gender Dysphoria was listed under ‘mental, behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorders’, but in the new, revised edition of the ICD, it is categorized under ‘conditions related to sexual health’.

What is Gender Dysphoria?

Although this view is highly contested, most, if not all modern definitions of gender detach the concept from that of biological sex. Sex pertains to one’s biological characteristics – genitalia, hormonal profile, chromosomes, bone density, etc. Gender, on the other hand, is largely considered to be a social construct – the roles, norms, and characteristics that are attached to or associated with a particular sex.  It is no longer viewed as a dichotomy, but rather, a wide spectrum on which individuals can choose to place themselves, based on their gender identity.

Based on this understanding, a discrepancy can occur between a person’s assigned gender (that is based on their biological sex) and the gender they identify as and can be extremely distressing and confusing to some. This is classified as Gender Dysphoria. Previously known as Gender Identity Disorder, it is associated with a number of other symptoms, such as a strong desire to be treated as, and for the sexual characters, both primary and secondary, of the other gender. According to the DSM, published by the APA, gender nonconformity by itself is not considered to be a pathology. It needs to be accompanied by “clinically significant distress” to require a diagnosis, a sense of revulsion of their own bodies, depression, anxiety, etc.

Treatment typically encompasses psychotherapy that helps an individual embrace the gender they identify with, as well as transitioning, which includes Hormonal Replacement Therapy, or even gender reassignment surgery.  

Research suggests that there are not only psychological elements at work here but a strong genetic influence as well. One study, for example, showed structural differences in the brains of 160 subjects who displayed symptoms of dysphoria. MRI and DTI scans of the biologically male participants, who identified as transwomen displayed neurological activity and brain patterns similar to biological females – their desired gender, and vice versa.

What does this mean for the transgender community?

In newly revised, 11th edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a tool that sets the standard for the diagnosis for a number of diseases, that is used by a number of countries all across the world, Gender Dysphoria is no longer a mental illness, but instead, a sexual health condition.

An official statement by the WHO stated, “while evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender, there remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD.”

This decision is a huge victory for trans activists everywhere, as it frees the community from the stigma that results from pathologization, and being classified as a mental disorder. The move could also reduce the ostracization, exclusion, and harassment they face on a regular basis, which only exacerbates their feelings of low self-esteem and isolation. The reduced prejudice could also potentially increase the chances that people that experience incongruence would seek help.

Additionally, this means that individuals who experience a gender incongruence will have easier access to the biological interventions they require, as well as increase investments that go into their health care and research.

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The author of the article is Potus.

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