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The UN’s health agency might stop considering transgender people mentally ill

The UN health agency is preparing to release its latest disease classification manual and is weighing options to change how transgender is categorized.
Imagen por Pierre Albouy/Reuters

The World Health Organization is reportedly considering a change to its current stance that classifies being transgender as a mental illness.

The change would be made to the WHO's "International Classification of Diseases (ICD)," a disease index referred to by doctors around the world.

The agency's transgender classification was most recently validated in the current version of the ICD issued in 1990. Since then, experts have pushed to change this categorization. The latest critique comes from a Lancet Psychiatry journal study co-authored by Geoffrey Reed, who is tasked with preparing the ICD's mental health section this time around, according to the New York Times.


Published earlier this week, the study proposes the "mental illness" categorization be changed in the 2018 ICD, and is based on interviews with 260 transgender adults. The researchers specifically evaluated whether transgender identity met the qualifications for a mental illness, defined primarily when a condition causes distress and impairment.

According to the publication, people who identify as transgender have faced challenges related to legal status, human rights violations, and healthcare barriers attributable to being formally classified as having a mental illness.

"We found distress and dysfunction were very powerfully predicted by the experiences of social rejection or violence that people had," Reed, also a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the Washington Post. "But they were not actually predicted by gender incongruence itself."

While the Lancet study adds another voice to WHO's debate about changing the mental health classification, several departments inside the WHO have green-lit the idea, the Post reported.

This is not the first time transgender identity has gone through a classification change. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder has gone through several iterations, from falling under the "sexual deviations" category in 1968 to its current qualification as "gender dysphoria" exclusively in the event that an individual is distressed or dysfunctional.

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