Recently, The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed it will no longer classify being transgender as a mental health disorder. 

The global organization’s groundbreaking May 25 decision to update its list of diagnoses in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11) is a huge step toward a better societal understanding of transgender people. This decision could help remove misconceptions about being transgender as well as empower transgender people around the world.

An Outdated Diagnosis

Before the WHO manual was updated, transgender people were referred to as having gender identity disorder, and the ICD-10 referred to it as a mental health issue that caused people to feel “a strong and persistent cross-gender identification.” 

The term is now gender incongruence, described as “a marked and persistent incongruence between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned sex.” 

The update also shifts the classification of being transgender. Instead of being listed as a mental health issue, it’s now listed as a sexual health condition. This change makes it so that transgender people no longer need a diagnosis or medical procedure in order to be legally recognized as transgender.

Future Implications Regarding Human Rights for Gender Identity

Before the revised list of diagnoses, being transgender was referred to as a mental disorder. This classification had many detrimental effects on transgender people around the world. By calling it a mental disorder, people were losing access to certain types of care if they were not diagnosed with gender identity disorder. The stigma associated with having a mental disorder also threatened the daily lives of transgender people.

Now, transgender people are no longer referred to as having a mental disorder. Instead, it is a sexual health condition known as gender incongruence. It’s not simply a definition change, it changes the category completely. Transgender people will not need to be diagnosed to find treatment resources related to gender incongruence.

Recognizing transgender people as having a sexual health condition instead of a mental disorder will also help to remove the societal stigma surrounding transgendered individuals. 

In some countries, transgender people used to have to be diagnosed as having gender identity disorder by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist would have to thoroughly verify that the individual is certain about their decision to change their name or receive surgical procedures, as examples. 

Without receiving this diagnosis, transgender people would be unable to take steps toward changing their physical appearances or legally aligning themselves as their perceived gender. Even if they received the diagnosis, they would then be seen as having a diagnosed mental disorder.

With the WHO’s revision, people will no longer need to be diagnosed with a mental disorder to be legally classified as transgender. Countries have until January 1, 2022, to adopt the new revision.

Ending the Discrimination

By changing the classification from a mental disorder to a sexual health condition, transgender people will no longer face societal hurdles and unfair stigmas. They will also be able to safely access medical treatments and procedures that they were unable to before, such as hormone treatment therapy.

Transgender people often face gender dysphoria, which is categorized as feeling negative side effects as a result of their condition. These symptoms can include depression and anxiety, and people may turn to drugs or alcohol to manage these feelings. 

If you or a loved one has become dependent on drugs or alcohol, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our treatment centers have programs that can meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, helping you break free from drug addiction and misuse. Contact us today to learn more about how to begin the path to recovery.

Jonathan Strum
By – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

The World Health Organization. “World Health Assembly Update, 25 May 2019.” May 25, 2019. Accessed June 9, 2019.

ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics. “HA60 Gender incongruence of adolescence or adulthood.” (n.d.). Accessed June 9, 2019. “Gender Identity Disorders.” (n.d.). Accessed June 9, 2019.

Human Rights Watch. “New Health Guidelines Propel Transgender Rights.” May 27, 2019. Accessed June 9, 2019.

Reed, Geoffrey, et. al. “Disorders related to sexuality and gende[…]ity in the ICD‐11.” World Psychiatry, September 22, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2019.

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