Being transgender is not a mental disorder, WHO decides


In a historic decision, the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to no longer classify transgender people as mentally ill. 

The organisation's 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) catalogue appeared early this week and "gender incongruence" (the term they use for people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth) has been moved out of the mental disorders chapter and into the sexual health chapter.

Historically, the WHO's classification of transgender identity as pathological had many professional and human rights organisations up in arms.

Less stigma 

In a YouTube video, the WHO's coordinator for the Adolescents and at-Risk Populations team, Dr Lale Say, said the decision was taken because they had a better understanding "that this wasn't actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma.

"So, in order to reduce the stigma while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter."

Praise for the move

According to CNN, international advocacy groups hailed the decision. Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe, said the move is the result of "tremendous effort by trans and gender diverse activists from around the world to insist on our humanity.

"I am elated that the WHO agrees that gender identity is not a mental illness." 

The future

The ICD catalogue is a standard tool used by medical practitioners to diagnose and treat conditions. Many medical aids (including those in South Africa) prefer to use this system. The change will be presented at the World Health Assembly, the WHO's legislative body, in 2019 and will go into effect on 1 January 2022.

Image credit: iStock

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