Mental Illness Manual Will Change Transgender Diagnosis
Upon next year’s publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the psychiatric profession may no longer consider all transgender people to have a permanent mental illness.
The American Psychiatric Association has altered the next edition of the definitive diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders, changing how transgender individuals are classified from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria. The new diagnosis implies a temporary condition that can be alleviated medically, rather than a permanent mental condition.
In the transgender community, gender dysphoria refers to mental pain caused by the difference between one’s body and one’s gender identity. Some transgender people choose not to undergo medical transition, but many find that hormone and surgical treatments can relieve their dysphoria.
While the APA hasn’t released the full diagnostic criteria for Gender Dysphoria, the name alone implies a shift from a pathology emphasizing gender nonconformity or cross-identification to one emphasizing profound feelings of physical incongruity, the usual source — besides social prejudice — of mental distress in transgender people.
Most psychiatrists do not believe that transgender people are mentally ill per se. Still, the Gender Identity Disorder model of transgender pathology, with its emphasis on identity rather than lived experience, means that transgender people are diagnosed with a permanent mental illness. The existence of the diagnosis is an easy right-wing talking point: by definition, transgender people are mentally ill. One psychiatrist who suggested changes to the DSM-5 was called as an expert witness in the case of a Utah divorce in which a lawyer argued that a trans woman’s gender identity constituted a “serious, chronic mental illness that might be harmful to a child.”
Transgender advocates have lobbied for years to alter what they see as a discriminatory policy—much like the past classification of homosexuality as a mental illness—and many would like to see transgender experience excised completely from the DSM, with other arrangements made for insurance coverage. Failing that, they hope that the Gender Dysphoria diagnosis will be sufficiently specific to exclude children who don’t conform to sex stereotypes, as well as transgender adults who have completed their transitions.
“The label of mental defectiveness really places a burden on trans people to continually prove our competence in our affirmed roles,” Colorado scholar and advocate Kelley Winters told the Associated Press.
The highly anticipated fifth edition will be published in May of 2013.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.