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Positive step: WHO may remove transgender identity as a 'mental disorder'

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 11 August 2016, 21:03 IST

Transgender people discrimination on a daily basis. And for what? For merely identifying with their gender.

What adds to the struggle is the fact that even global organisations classify it as a 'disorder', in some form or the other.

As per the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codebook prepared by the World Health Organisation, 'transgender identity' is a mental disorder, based on various studies the organisation vouches for.

This, however, might change. The WHO, in its next revision of the ICD (the 11th, due in 2018), plans to declassify transgender identity as a 'disorder', based on the more recent findings of Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

What the study found

The study was conducted and written by researchers at the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry.

Geoffrey Reed, co-author of the study, in a public release said: "The definition of transgender identity as a mental disorder has been misused to justify the denial of healthcare and contributed to the perception that transgender people must be treated by psychiatric specialists, creating barriers to healthcare services."

The study, which was conducted in Mexico City in 2014, involved interviewing 250 transgender people. They were asked various questions regarding their childhoods, and how they identified gender. They were also asked about their experiences and the reactions they got from their workplaces, home and places they visit often, when they identified themselves as 'trans'.

The study concluded that a major cause for distress for transgender people was due to stigmatisation and social rejection from family and peers. The study showed that 76% of transgender people faced social rejection, with over 63% stating that they had been victims of violence because of revealing their gender identity.

The study also found that many transgender people are at an increased risk of dropping out of school, homelessness, loss of employment, social rejection, disrupted interpersonal relationships, physical injuries and victimisation..

The lead author of the study, Rebecca Robles, mentioned in a media statement that the findings show distress among the trans community is caused due to stigmatisation and mistreatment.

The advantages and the Indian context

Transgender identity won't, however, be removed completely from the ICD. It's more likely to be reclassified under the section called 'Conditions Related to Sexual Health'. It is hoped that this will improve trans people's access to healthcare.

Activists are lauding the move, and are hoping India would take this into account once it is finalised.

AIIMS will conduct its own study on the transgender community before a final decision on the ICD is taken. The study will be conducted on the Hijra community.

Transgender people, who decide to undergo a sex reassignment surgery, have to deal with a barrage of insensitive questions before the operation from psychiatrists. Many go through various other forms of harassment, which to some extent could be mitigated with the mere declassification of transgender identity from the ICD list.

The added benefit here would be a better access to healthcare. Governments abiding by the ICD believe that transgenders need to be treated by psychiatrist specialists only, ignoring their health concerns. This could change if the WHO goes ahead with its intention.

The reclassification could also reduce the the number of mandatory pre-surgery requirements before a sex reassignment surgery.

Many transgenders also rely on quacks for sex reassignment surgeries, which causes various complications. The reclassification could also prevent this.

Mindset needs to change

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM, in 1987, had removed homoesexuality from mental health disorders 29 years back. However, the fifth review of the DSM has retained its classification of 'gender dysphoria' as a mental disorder.

For the premier health organisation in the world to classify the desire to be accepted as a member of the opposite sex as a 'mental disorder' is regressive to say the least. So it's about time we take the next step in understanding gender.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 11 August 2016, 21:03 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster