The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that gender incongruence, ie having the feeling of belonging to the opposite sex, should no longer be considered a mental illness, according to the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) published in June 2018. A decision aimed at reducing the stigmatization of transgender people and which will have to be validated by member countries in 2019. In February 2010, France was the first country in the world to remove transsexualism out of the list of psychiatric conditions.
The International Classification of Diseases contains about 55,000 unique codes for injuries, illnesses and causes of death that provide a common language for health professionals to communicate around the world. ICD-11 has required more than 10 years of work in collaboration with health professionals who have submitted more than 10,000 revision proposals.
The WHO expects that the new classification of transsexualism will “reduce stigma”
The new classification includes new chapters, including one on sexual health. It covers disorders previously classified elsewhere, such as “gender incongruence” of children, adolescents and adults, previously classified under mental disorders. “Gender incongruence is characterized by a marked and persistent incongruence between the experienced sex of a person and the assigned sex,” explains the WHO, a particularity of which suffer transgender people or transsexuals. According to a 2013 report, presented to the Council of Europe and written by psychiatrist and psychotherapist Erik Schneider, transgender children would represent one child out of 500, a figure probably underestimated: “the number of trans children” is certainly higher than most people think,” wrote Dr. Schneider back then.
One of the “big problems” is that “linking transsexualism to mental illness is stigmatizing,” said Lale Say, head of reproductive health and research at WHO. Also, the WHO expects that the new classification of transsexualism “will reduce stigma, which could contribute to a better acceptance of these people by society (…) and even increase their access to health care” , she explains. While the LGBT + community on the whole views this WHO decision as a breakthrough, it is far from satisfactory for some. According to the organization T-Time, the classification of gender incongruence under “sexual health” is “from another time” and “maintains the amalgam yet denounced for years between gender and sexuality”.
ICD-11 will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2019 for adoption by Member States, and will enter into force on January 1st, 2022. The classification published today is a preliminary overview that will help countries plan their use of the new version, prepare translations and train health professionals.