Debatable mental conditions – 2: Understanding gender identity disorder

Gender is an important aspect of an individual’s identity. It is obvious for a person to grow up identifying the facets of his/her gender and conduct life accordingly. However, some individuals find it difficult coming to terms with their gender and tend to act like the opposite gender. This condition is known as gender identity disorder (GID).

In the second part of the series “Debatable mental conditions,” GID that involves controversies over it being a mental disorder will be discussed.

GID is also known as gender dysphoria and is defined as the persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender. The feelings are so strong that the individual feels uneasy in the assigned gender, which further causes significant distress or impairment.

As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders used by psychiatrists and other experts, GID is considered a mental illness. However, the same is debated by many.

Controversies surrounding GID

Soon after the term ‘homosexuality’ was removed from the list of mental illness in 1974 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), an uproar was raised for removal of GID from the list. Amidst lack of any confirmed reports about the biological origins of GID, people consider the condition as abnormal and against the societal norms. The disorder is often stigmatized because people are of the notion that it brings disgrace to the family and is against the biological divide on the basis of gender. Hence, people exhibiting GID are considered suffering from mental imbalances.

However, many experts argue that similar to homosexuality, GID should also be removed from the list of DSM. They also argued that it should not be considered a mental illness. Acknowledging the appeals and in an effort to de-stigmatize GID, the APA made revisions to the manual known as DSM-5 in 2012. The APA eliminated the term ‘gender identity disorder’ and referred to the condition as “gender dysphoria”. The change, while helped correct the norm of considering people with identity disorder as mentally ill, the new term also focused only on those who were distressed by their gender identity.

Being transgender is a mental illness: WHO

The debates were at rest until the World Health Organization (WHO) declared transgenderism as a mental illness in its last edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a global codebook that influences national disease diagnostic manuals worldwide. The condition of transgender is listed in the chapter ‘Mental and Behavioral Disorders’.

Explaining the placement, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, said, “The conditions in that block are not mental diseases, and gender incongruence is not classified as a mental disease — although that block is located inside the chapter ‘Mental and Behavioral Disorders’. Explaining further, Dr. Jack Drescher, a member of a volunteer working group revising the ICD’s section on sexual disorders and sexual health, said that the present inclusion has been due to lack of proper process.  However, he said that the ICD-11 would include transgender in different part of the document, potentially under conditions related to sexual health.

Though a major step was taken by APA with replacing the term ‘gender identity disorder’ with ‘gender dysphoria’, the condition would be considered a mental disorder until the release of ICD-11 by WHO (likely to get published in 2018). It is expected that ICD-11 will delist transgenderism from the chapter ‘Mental and Behavioral Disorders.’

Road to recovery

If you or a loved one is grappling with any mental disorders, you can seek help from 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number (855) 653-8178 or chat online with our representatives, who can guide you to one of the best mental health rehabilitation centers in your vicinity.

Read the other articles of the series “Debatable mental conditions”:

  1. Unraveling the mysteries of dissociative identity disorder