Trans is not a mental illness

For almost 40 years, the Cantre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has treated children in their Child, Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). Children and youth who expressed that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth went to this clinic to stop this thinking and feeling and accept their assigned gender. This clinic tells children, youth, their families, and society that being trans is not ok, that being trans is an illness and that being trans can be and should be medically treated. This month, CAMH announced that the program will be shutting down. This is amazing news!

I am a cis woman and some of my friends and colleagues are trans. I am extremely happy to know that the closure of the GIC at CAMH is another step in the direction of trans acceptance. The very existence of this clinic went against provincial and international human rights guidelines that said it is misconduct for health professionals to attempt to alter the gender identity or expression of a minor. Trans people are protected in Canada under the Charter of Human Rights. Closing the clinic helps protect trans people’s rights.

Closing the Gender Identity Clinic, I believe, is also further proof that as societal views change, our views of what a mental illness is, also changes. Homosexuality was in the DSM from the beginning (DSM I, 1952), was removed in the DSM II and was given different names within the same revision. The alternative names for homosexuality, such as “sexual orientation disturbance”, were not completely removed from the DSM until the 80s. It took awhile and it was removed. This demonstrates the instability of psychiatric illness and the power of society. We know that your sexual orientation is not an illness and at one point it was seen to be until people spoke out against it being an illness.

Trans people appear to be going through the same thing with psychiatry. When the DSM 5 came out I was very disappointed to see that a gender identity disorder was still included, just as gender dysphoria. This change in language allows psychiatry to say, “Look, expressing a different gender identity than the one assigned to you at birth is only an illness when it causes you stress instead of being an illness merely because it exists.” I am cis and could not even imagine the stress that may follow knowing your expressed gender identity does not match your assigned gender. I may go out on a limb and say that the toxic culture that trans people live in will create all types of stress regardless (those who know, correct me if I am wrong). I am hoping that soon, gender dysphoria will be removed from the DSM completely. (If you are a trans person, I would be very interested to know what you think about the gender dysphoria diagnosis)

Sexual orientation and gender identity are great examples of how psychiatry severely screws up in defining and treating “illness”. As society accepts people as they are, we do research that supports this acceptance, we can clearly shape psychiatry in a way that we could not shape physical medicine. I will always stand by the fact that a large portion of psychiatry depends on social constructs of normality. If we believe being straight is normal then being gay is an illness. If we believe those born male should always be male then trans becomes an illness. If we believe that people should not hear voices then hearing voices because an illness. When we have not limited normal we have seen psychiatry change for the better.

I strongly suggest you learn about the experiences of trans people. This group is unbelievably marginalized and oppressed. The hate these people experience is often violent and sometimes has fatal consequences. This all becomes especially true for trans people of colour. Trans people are people deserving of respect and have the same rights as everyone else.


Check it out!

Discredited treatment of Trans kids at CAMH shouldn’t shock us

Why the closing of Toronto’s CAMH Gender clinic matters

Kat Blaque Youtube page

Laverne Cox at Creating Change 2014

Janet Mock- Google Talks


13 thoughts on “Trans is not a mental illness

  1. This is great news. I agree, unless we consider things as normal then it does become an illness. There is nothing wrong with someone who is trans-gender they are normal people just like everyone else who is straight or gay or what ever sexuality they are.

  2. I would love to nominate you for an award and will even if you do not post it. For you I am fine with that. As far as this post, I have a step brother who was trans and than just gay but his adoptive father beat him and it was unsettling to me. When I finish this simple award, just take it if you do not wish to do it. Take it as I think you deserve a different looking award.:)

  3. Thank you for writing this. As a trans person with severe mental illness I fight this every day. Too many mental health professionals still consider gender identity issues to be a mental illness even though the most recent DSM revision reclassifies it. My psychiatrist tries to lump my gender identity in with my schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. In many ways my life is better than it was prior to transition. I still have serious mental health problems, but I can look into the mirror without hating the person staring back at me. That makes coping with the other things easier.

    • Thank you for your comment?

      I remember a few years back, a person who is deaf shared during one of my critical mental health presentations that their doctor and others assume that their depression is the result of being deaf. Seeing depression as a separate manifestation doesn’t occur to them and also assuming that the person is upset about being deaf (which the expressed they were not). Is this similar to your experience?

      Self-acceptance does wonders for your mental health. I’m happy you’re happy 🙂

  4. Hi!!! I used to follow your blog another name, I greatly appreciated your insight and perspective then as I do now. I am a trans woman, and I have spent my life at the intersection of mental health and being trans. I think this is an important issues due to all the gatekeeping aspects that trans people have to obtain from mental health professionals confirming that they are who they say they are to receive any trans related healthcare. I have suffered with mental illness a lot, but I will say that being out and transitioning for me has been the greatest thing that has improved my life and mood mores than any medication I have ever taken. Things can still be difficult, but I am able to love myself now which was never possible before. I even have started my own blog recently which was something that I didn’t feel comfortable doing before ❤ 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing!!!!

      You mention the intersection between trans and mental health and from my understanding it’s a whole another issue! My trans friends have told me that accessing mental health care can be difficult and many of them have set out to create resources about trans inclusive health services in our city. It is amazing what being yourself can do for your emotional and mental wellbeing! I am happy to know you accept and your love yourself! I look forward to following your blog!!!

      • 😀 I agree they are most definitely separate issues, but what I mean is that because they are treated the same we end up having to go through the mental health system to get letters for hormones and surgeries. It makes me feel like because I am trans I am not able to make decisions for myself and that my body autonomy is limited due to the way we view gender issues. I also discuss intersection in terms of my experience with bipolar which is another layer. Conflating the two I think is harmful because I am trans and bipolar and they are wholly different.

      • Ah yes, I see what you mean. That makes sense and I can’t imagine what it’s like to have both identities lumped together. It’s great that you speak out and share this! There is a lot people don’t know, a lot people assume and it can serve to educate others and helps those who are starting to transition.

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