Transgender Identity Is Not a Mental Health Disorder, Study Finds

Gender identity bathroom sign
(Image credit: Karen Roach | Shutterstock )

People who identify as transgender should not be considered to have a mental health disorder, according to a new study from Mexico.

The World Health Organization currently lists transgender identity as a mental health disorder, and the new study is the first in a series of research aimed at finding out whether this categorization is apt. The study will be repeated in Brazil, France, India, Lebanon and South Africa, according to the researchers.

In the new study, published today (July 26) in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, the researchers investigated whether the distress and dysfunction associated with transgender identity were the result of social rejection and stigmatization or an inherent part of being transgender. [5 Controversial Mental Health Treatments]

Experiencing "distress and dysfunction" is often considered a defining feature of having a mental health disorder, according to the study. But other factors can cause these feelings as well, including experiencing rejection or stigmatization.

The researchers interviewed 250 transgender people in Mexico City. The people in the study reported at what age they first became aware of having a transgender identity, as well as their experiences of psychological distress, social rejection, difficulty functioning in their daily life, and violence, according to the study.

The researchers found that 76 percent of the participants reported experiencing social rejection, and 63 percent reported being the victim of violence as a result of their gender identity. In many cases, social rejection and violence against transgender individuals occurred within families. (The frequency with which such acts occurred within participants' own families was "particularly disturbing," the researchers wrote.)

Using a statistical analysis, the researchers found that social rejection and violence were strong indicators that a transgender person would experience distress and dysfunction. Having a transgender identity, on the other hand, was not a predictor of stress or dysfunction, they found.

"Our findings support the idea that distress and dysfunction may be the result of stigmatization and maltreatment, rather than integral aspects of transgender identity,” Rebeca Robles, a researcher at the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. In other words, the distress and dysfunction that the transgender individuals reported in the study was more likely the result of being treated with prejudice, rather than inherent to having a transgender identity in and of itself.

"This study highlights the need for policies and programs to reduce stigmatization and victimization of" people with transgender identities, Robles said. The removal of transgender diagnoses from the classification of mental disorders can be a useful part of those efforts," she said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.