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

Psych hospitals need a new standard

Full disclosure, I have never been hospitalized for mental health issues. I have been to the emergency room 3 times and that was enough for me to be unimpressed with the treatment of individuals with mental health issues.

While I was on the subway yesterday I saw an ad for the CAMH Foundation’s Gifts of Light. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Toronto’s leading psychiatric teaching hospital. The Gifts of Light program allows people to give a certain amount of money for certain specific or non-specific items that will support patients and/or the hospital. I feel very moved to participate in this program. Many of my friends have been hospitalized, including at CAMH, and if I put myself in the shoes of the individuals who are staying at CAMH, I can imagine that receiving some of these items really does make a difference. They deserve to feel amazing and have the best opportunities when they’re going through a hard time.

Image: an individual with long blonde hair sitting on a hospital bed wearing a hospital gown. (Image used as an example)

Today I sat down to check out what the gifts are and narrow it down to what I would like to give. As I was scrolling through I noticed that many of the gifts in the lower price range are about giving items to make patients feel more comfortable such as a toothbrush, soap, socks etc. One gift, in particular, inspired this post. The gift is called “Just Like Home” and it was part of the description that made me stop and say “are you serious?” It says, “A Stay in the hospital can be unpleasant and unsettling. You can change that by giving pajamas and slippers to a patient — instead of a hospital gown and care feet — that will immediately make them feel much more comfortable.”  I knew this was happening, hospital gowns being the first thing new patients wear, there is just something about seeing it written, seeing the hospital admit that their patients are not given actual clothing that is painful. Another gift also uses the word “standard” to describe the hospital gown.

Image: an individual with long blonde hair, standing, wearing light blue pajama short sleeve shirt and light blue pajama pants. (Image used as an example)

From what some of my friends have told me, it is a very horrifying experience to first be admitted to the hospital and be made to transition from their street clothes to the hospital gown (especially if your admittance is involuntary). A friend of mine told me that process reminded her of a past trauma and when it took her longer to put the gown on, the nurse became very upset with her and threatened to put the gown on for her (not at CAMH). For some, the gown is very symbolic. It can be like removing your identity. It can be a symbol (a reminder) of how unwell you are. How could actual clothing not be standard during this very difficult time?

I understand budgets. I don’t doubt that providing pajamas would be more expensive than the paper hospital gowns. I know that non-psychiatric hospitals also use paper gowns as their standard patient attire but, in this case, context is extremely important. I believe that when it comes to comfort and dignity, the standard should not be a piece of paper to cover yourself with.



Motherhood and Madness


B and I are trying to get pregnant. When we first decided we wanted to try I thought about how trying to become pregnant, being pregnant and having a child would affect my mental health issue. What emotional journey will I go on? Who can I turn to? What will people think? From the research I have done in the past I am aware that resources for parents with mental health issues are scarce, but yet research on the negative impact parent mental health issues have on children is fairly abundant. This is why I wanted to create the Motherhood & Madness section of my blog.

It is my hope that through Motherhood and Madness I can share my experience of trying and being pregnant and finally, being a parent while having a mental health issue. I will share research the supports parents who have mental health issues and most importantly, I feel, connect with other soon-to-be parents and current parents who have lived experience.


The Adult Role in Youth Mental Health Treatment

When I was in grade 12 we had a special guest come into my Food & Nutrition class. While I forgot what the woman was talking about I do know that she made me feel safe enough to vaguely mention having issues with eating. A day or so later I was down at student services (for reasons I also do not remember) and saw a sticky note on the receptionist’s desk that said, “Kristen B, spoke of eating disorder in class.” I was HORRIFIED!!! Not only was a not speaking about having an eating disorder, this information was out on the desk for ANYONE to see. My first and last name! I spent the next few days scared that I would be called down to student services to be spoken to. This did not happen. Looking back, I am concerned that an adult would not follow up with me.

When you are a child or a teen you do not always know what is best for you. As much as young people like to keep secrets from adults, it is the adults that are still in charge of their safety. To have knowledge that a young person was talking about what they labeled as an eating disorder and to not follow up with that young person is careless. The role of adults in youth mental health treatment is to ask those tough questions (“Are you restricting your eating?”), letting them know you support them (“I am here if you need to talk.”) and set up the appropriate supports (“I can call in the school social worker to come and see you.”).

Adults cannot shy away because they are unsure of what to say, what to do or worse, do not believe that something is happening and blame hormones. Children and youth can’t do some things by themselves. They need adult guidance. This does not mean that children and youth are not consulted and adults should still respect their right to self-determination within reason. Children and youth need adults to be there for them so mental health issues can be prevented or lessened in children and youth.

Sponsor Me and Support Youth with Mental Health and Addiction Issues! (1)

On October 18, 2015, I will be participating in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront 5k Walk while raising funds for Young Ones.

I have been volunteering with Young Ones since the organization began 4 years ago. I have seen how important the services Young Ones provides are to the youth of Toronto who experience mental health and addiction issues. Aside from running a few of the organization’s programs I have also used their services. As someone with a mental health issue, I can not express the importance of having therapists who are truly dedicated, having no wait list and being surround by peers who know first-hand what it is like to experience the lows and still work towards recovery!

My goal of $1000 sends one youth to treatment FOR FREE! $1000 can also support our Mentorship program by providing TTC tokens and access to workshops and events for youth and their Mentor! And, $1000 can help our “End the Stigma” Education Team travel to community engagements, hire speaking trainers and provide honorariums to our youth speakers!

Every little bit counts! Start at $10 or $25 and if you can donate more please consider doing so! You can donate by clicking here.  If you are unable to donate please share this post!

THANK YOU! All pledges will receive an official tax receipt (either electronic or in the mail.)