Denmark to the WHO: Trans Identity Is Not a Mental Illness

Denmark became the first European country to announce it is prepared to break away from international standards established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and stop classifying being transgender as a mental illness.

Despite a strong medical consensus otherwise, the clinical guidelines issued by the WHO still classify transgender identity as a mental health issue.

The WHO reviews its International Classification of Disease (ICD) periodically, and as far back as 2011, the European Parliament has called on WHO to stop pathologizing trans people by removing the blanket “gender identity disorder” classification. They’ve urged the WHO to bring the ICD in line with current medical understanding on the issue: while trans people may suffer gender dysphoria or anxiety about their physical sex/gender incongruence, they are not displaying a disordered behavior. 

Many countries around the world take their lead from the ICD in forming diagnostic criteria and public policy. As a result, trans people feel that this label of a mental or behavioral disorder only adds to the discrimination they face. 

Now, Denmark’s officials have said they have “run out of patience” with the World Health Organization.

“At the moment, transgender is listed as a mental illness or behavioral problem,” health spokesman Flemming Moller Mortensen stated. “That is incredibly stigmatizing and in no way reflects how we see transgender people in Denmark. It should be a neutral diagnosis.”

Mortensen reportedly went on to add: “The WHO is currently working on a new system for registering diagnoses. It has been working on it for a very, very long time. Now we’ve run out of patience, and want to send out a signal saying that if the system is not changed by October, then we in Denmark will go it alone.”

The long awaited changes to the WHO criteria are expected to take place in 2017, but there’s no guarantee that the update will be delivered then. There’s also no firm commitment to ending the gender identity disorder/behavior label. In that eventuality, Denmark’s officials have asserted that they will break away from the World Health Organization.

While this is certainly bold, Denmark stands on solid ground with this decision.

In 2012 the American Psychiatric Association approved revisions to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” This, of course, is the other major diagnostic text or “psychiatric bible.” Those changes included wording that, on the surface, appeared to be far more trans-friendly.

Indeed, the Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis was removed and replaced with gender dysphoria. The new designation takes the emphasis off the individual and, instead, puts it on the anxiety that may arise when one’s physical appearance does not match one’s sense of gender.

Unfortunately, trans rights groups have pointed out that in other parts of the DSM-5, there is still room to pathologize trans people under sexual disorders. Regardless, the move from Gender Identity Disorder to gender dysphoria was undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

It is important to recognize, however, that because accessing affordable gender affirmation-related health care is often tied to a diagnosis — for example, gender dysphoria — this is a complex issue with a number of policy implications.

Trans access to health care has been a major issue in Denmark for some time. Until relatively recently, the country subjected trans people to forced sterilization if they wanted to complete their gender transition.

European law guarantees that trans people must be given access to gender affirmation-related health care, so this may not be a barrier for Denmark. Even so, any change to diagnostic criteria is a process that must be carefully examined in the context of wider health care to ensure access is not limited by this otherwise positive step.

Hopefully, Denmark’s decision will put even more pressure on the World Health Organization to update its criteria and in doing so, help end the stigma that trans people around the world currently face.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

56 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim V7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim V7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Rose Becke
Rose Becke2 years ago

It is not a mental illness

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

More androgyny in the world would help.

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R Wheeler
R Wheeler2 years ago

Kudos to the Danes. Transgender is NOT a mental illness!

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raya ENGLER
raya ENGLER2 years ago

To Julie W:
I love your empathy and I find your reply appropriate.
I disagree with you that nature sometimes makes mistakes, yes, she does, but I'm not sure this falls under the same category.
Just as some people are mostly hairless, some have a lot of hair. Some are taller, some shorter, darker, lighter, average, brilliant. I feel the same goes with sexuality.
There is no black and white in nature but a blending of extremes. We as a society decide what is acceptable or not and unfortunately some people get mowed down in the process. However, your answer I think was good

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Mina X. wrote, "Denmark is correct. These people are mentally ill.... " I'm confused. I thought that Denmark asserted that transgender people were NOT mentally ill.


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