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Homosexuality as a Mental Illness

Homosexuality as a Mental Illness

Updated: Jun 12


Until recently, homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness by both the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).


These classifications were a result of the widespread belief that sexual orientations other than heterosexuality were something needing to be cured or remedied, fostered by society’s discomfort with those who fall outside of what was considered “normal.” Now, however, both of these organizations have removed sexual orientation from their classifications of mental illnesses.


American Psychiatric Association


Protest of the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA. (Image Source: Cured/Patrick Sammon, Bennett Singer)
Protest of the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA. (Image Source: Cured/Patrick Sammon, Bennett Singer)

Since its founding in 1892, the APA has released five editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), providing information and listings of psychiatric diagnoses. In its first two editions, DSM-I and DSM-II, homosexuality was found as a listed diagnosis. However, in 1973, the APA decided to remove homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis from the DSM-III and all following editions, including the current DSM-5. However, they replaced it with "sexual orientation disturbance" for people "in conflict with" their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM. This decision began the end of negative medicinal stigma surrounding homosexuality and other LGBTQ+ identities, and it was pivotal in generating similar shifts in other areas, such as the WHO.


World Health Organization


The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) determined by the WHO is the largest and most commonly utilized classification system for diseases around the globe. In the ICD-10, which was endorsed in 1990 and remains the most recently adopted version of the ICD, homosexuality was removed as a mental illness. However, other variations of sexual orientation were classified as mental illnesses, such as someone who "wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioral disorders."


In the direction of progress, however, the ICD-11, which was finalized in 2018, removes sexual orientation from its classifications of mental illnesses, following the lead of the APA in 1973. While the ICD-11 is not yet used in widespread medical practice, it reflects the understanding that neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is indicative of mental illness.


Legacy


The declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA and WHO was an important step in removing the negative stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ identities. Overall, these decisions were vital milestones in normalizing and accepting the LGBTQ+ community from a medical and social standpoint.


Dr. John Fryer giving his speech as Dr. Henry Anonymous to convince the APA to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness at the 1972 APA annual conference (Image Source: 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous/Ain Gordan)
Dr. John Fryer giving his speech as Dr. Henry Anonymous to convince the APA to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness at the 1972 APA annual conference (Image Source: 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous/Ain Gordan)

 

References


Drescher, J. (2015). Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality. Behavioral Sciences, 5(4), 565–575. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs5040565


Burton, N. (2015, September 18). When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201509/when-homosexuality-stopped-being-mental-disorder.


Fernández Rodríguez, M. (2018). Gender incongruence is no longer a mental disorder. JOURNAL OF MENTAL HEALTH AND CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2(5), 6–8. https://doi.org/10.29245/2578-2959/2018/5.1157


Cochran, S. D., Drescher, J., Kismödi, E., Giami, A., García-Moreno, C., Atalla, E., Marais, A., Meloni Vieira, E., & Reed, G. M. (2020). Proposed declassification of disease categories related to sexual orientation in the international statistical classification of diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). FOCUS, 18(3), 351–357. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.focus.18303


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