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World Health Organization:

Being transgender not a mental illness


Kashmira Ganderreports on Newsweek.com that the World Health Organization no longer considers gender incongruence—a condition experienced by some transgender people—as a mental disorder. 

The United Nations health agency announced June 18 the condition, also known as gender dysphoria, has been reclassified as a sexual health condition.

Gender incongruence is defined as a condition where a person feels distressed because the gender they were assigned at birth according to their sex does not match their internal feelings. For instance, a person with a penis who is described as a boy, despite them identifying as a girl. It is important to note that not every transgender person has gender incongruence.


The term is controversial as some argue it wrongly pathologizes the feelings of transgender people. However, others argue it is necessary in order for transgender people to seek treatment, for instance hormonal medications and surgeries.

People hold a giant transgender flag during a gay parade in Istanbul, on June 22, 2014, during the Trans Pride Parade. The World Health Organization has announced that being transgender will no longer be classified as a mental illness. 

The WHO said the scientific evidence is now clear that gender incongruence is not a mental disorder and acknowledged that classifying it as such “can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender.”

However, the body explained there are “significant healthcare needs” felt by those with the condition that can be met when it is classified under its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). It documents all health conditions recognized by the body with a coding system.

The WHO's lists of disorders

Last updated in 1990, the ICD is the WHO’s list of officially recognized disorders, and associated information such as statistics and treatments. The ICD codes are used by countries to determine where to invest resources, and form the basis for insurance billings in the U.S.

Similarly, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association it reclassified “Gender Identity Disorder,” an outdated term, to include Gender Dysphoria in its fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

Geoffrey Reed, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and chief consultant to the new section of the code, told LGBT website Pink News: “It’s sending a very strong message that the rest of the world is no longer considering it a mental disorder. One of the benefits of moving it out of the mental disorder section is trying to reduce stigma.”

Difficulties for transgenders

The WHO highlights that transgender people can finding harder to health services such as HIV care, due to barriers including violence, legal barriers, stigma and discrimination.

Health issues that disproportionately affect this population include HIV, as transgender women are around 49 times more likely to be living with the condition than other adults of reproductive age.

Rebecca Stinson, head of trans inclusion at the LGBT charity Stonewall, told Newsweek: "Being trans is not a mental illness and it’s great to see the WHO recognize this. Trans people seeking support need to be accepted for who they are."