In the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases (ICD), being transgender is classified as a mental health disorder, but a new study suggests that should change.
The American Psychiatric Association removed gender identity disorder from the latest edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
‘Social rejection and violence were strong indicators that a transgender person would experience distress and dysfunction.
Mexican researchers interviewed 250 transgenders. The researchers found levels of distress were more strongly influenced by social rejection and violence than by being transgender.
About 76% said they suffered social rejection due to being transgender. They were rejected by their family members, followed by schoolmates, co-workers, and friends.
The researchers also found that nearly two-thirds were victims of violence due to their gender identity. Nearly half of the violence was due to family members. Some of those surveyed reported sexual violence.
"Stigma associated with both mental disorder and transgender identity has contributed to the precarious legal status, human rights violations and barriers to appropriate care among transgender people," said study senior author Geoffrey Reed, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"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," he said.
Some governments have used the definition of transgender as a mental health disorder in courts to deny people their rights in child custody, reproduction and changing legal documents.
Study lead investigator Rebeca Robles said, "Our findings support the idea that distress and dysfunction may be the result of stigmatization and maltreatment, rather than integral aspects of transgender identity." Robles is from the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry.
The findings of the study need to be confirmed with additional studies before the next approval of the revision of the WHO International Classification of Diseases in 2018.
"Rates of experiences related to social rejection and violence were extremely high in this study, and the frequency with which this occurred within participants' own families is particularly disturbing," said Robles.
"Unfortunately, the level of maltreatment experienced in this sample is consistent with other studies from around the world. This study highlights the need for policies and programs to reduce stigmatization and victimization of this population. The removal of transgender diagnoses from the classification of mental disorders can be a useful part of those efforts," she concluded.
The findings of the study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.