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Is Gender Dysphoria a Mental Illness?

November 7th, 2023


You may have heard the term Gender Dysphoria used in the news or in conversations with friends. Gender Dysphoria is a diagnosis made by a therapist, psychologist, or other provider. You may be asking yourself, what is Gender Dysphoria? This article will hopefully give you the answer to that question and provide more information on what the diagnosis means.

Gender Dysphoria

Gender Dysphoria can occur when a person’s assigned sex at birth and gender they identify with are in conflict. It most likely will include a strong, pervasive desire to be another gender. This conflict may cause that person to feel distress as they are not outwardly presenting with the gender they identify with. This can be an extremely upsetting feeling. Gender Dysphoria is a recognized mental health concern and can be found within the DSM-5. Less than 1% of the population have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Gender identity person

Gender Identity

People who experience Gender Dysphoria may want to pursue gender affirmation through a transition. Transitioning can mean many things. A person may want to express their gender by changing the way they dress or wear their hair, use different pronouns, transition medically/surgically, or any combination of the above. Gender is a spectrum. A person may feel as though they identify with both the male and female gender and want to use pronouns to reflect that. Someone else may not identify with either of those genders. The word “transgender” means someone who doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. It does not necessarily mean they want to transition into the “opposite” gender. Many people who are transgender have gender dysphoria, but it is not a requirement. Not all people who are transgender will want to purse any or all the domains of gender affirmation.

Gender Dysphoria Symptoms

The word “dysphoria” means dissatisfaction. Here are some of the common symptoms:

1. depression

2. anxiety

3. distress

4. negative/dislike of self-image

5. dislike of anatomy

6. preference for toys, activities, clothing of “other” gender (for children)

Due to the distress, those who are gender dysphoric have an increased risk of self-harm, substance use, and suicidal ideation. Moreover, those who are gender non-conforming are also at an increased risk rate for discrimination at school, at home, and in society. This discrimination may only further increase their symptoms.

Gender identity crises

Mental Health Barriers

Transgender people are met with many barriers to their mental health due to discrimination. For many years, there was not a diagnosis for gender dysphoria. Many people were mis-diagnosed, causing them to receive sub-standard care. According to the Mayo Clinic, gender dysphoria wasadded to the DSM-5 to “to help people with gender dysphoria get access to necessary health care and effective treatment. The term focuses on discomfort as the problem, rather than identity.” Though this diagnosis has made significant improvement in getting health-care access for transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, there is still a large gap. There is a lack of health-care workers that are competent or have undergone training to help transgender individuals.


There are many types of therapy that may be helpful to those who experience gender dysphoria. Therapy for gender dysphoria would explore what aspects of gender identity the person would like to express and discuss ways to integrate the preferred gender identity into their life. Beyond this, treatment could include exploring social support, addressing minority stress, helping explore medical decisions, and increasing quality of life. Beyond therapy, there are many other types of treatments that may help those who experience gender dysphoria.

These include:

1. Hormone therapy

2. Genital reconstruction

3. Breast or chest surgery

4. Hysterectomy

5. Facial reconstruction

Though these surgeries can be gender affirming to some transgender people, not all transgender people will choose to undergo hormone therapy or reconstructions. There are many barriers to receiving gender affirming surgeries. The criteria needed for these surgeries include well documented gender dysphoria, capacity to consent to treatment, legal age, and “well controlled’ mental concerns. For many, the criteria are a large barrier to obtaining the surgeries they need. Financial considerations are also a barrier for many, as these surgeries, therapies, and reconstructions can be extremely expensive.

Questioning your Gender identity

Gender Dysphoria

Hopefully now you have a clearer idea of Gender Dysphoria and its definition. If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, Clarity Clinic has many experienced clinicians who have specialize in LGBTQ+ community. The Trevor Project also provides a great resource for LGBTQ+ youth, with a 24-hour hotline linked here that you can call anytime to talk about concerns.

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