Transgender equality moves a step forward as World Health Organisation rethinks ‘mental illness’ stigma

In a move that will be welcomed by transgendered people and the LGBT community inclusive alike, the World Health Organisation has announced that it will be removing ‘transgenderism‘ from its classification of ‘mental health disease.’

But it may be no coincidence as the decision comes hot off the back of a new study linking stigma of the group with significant stress and other problems.

A study in social repression

Published in The Lancet Psychiatrythe study evaluated the quality of life of some 250 transgender participants. Areas reviewed included stress, social rejection, ‘functional impairment’ and exposure to violence.

Most individuals reported problems with academic and family life, as well as negative outcomes associated with social rejection and violence. The paper went on to suggest that reclassifying the lifestyle could help to reduce stigma and associated issues.

stigma transgender
The transgender community is significantly affected by stigma. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Old Label, Old Stigma

The decision made this week has been hailed as a positive move toward removing stigma. Director Lale Say said in The Guardian;

We think it will reduce stigma so that it may help better social acceptance for these individuals.

But others are questioning why the lifestyle was ever considered a problem in the first place. Geoffrey Read, senior professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said;

“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.”

It seems that the decision may not just be a step forward toward much-needed recognition, but an actual avenue for equal healthcare treatment, legal rights and even family life.

Transgender people have a right to be proud of who they are. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Reclassification as ‘gender incongruence’

Whilst this move will resonate with a community long deserving of fairer treatment, there is still the question of whether the lifestyle should be medicalised at all.

So far the WHO has declared that although ‘transgenderism’ will no longer be classified as a psychiatric problem, it still exists within the medical field as a type of ‘gender incongruence’

Perhaps this is one step forward with many more still to come. So is this enough? Or should the WHO be doing more?

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