Is America Normalizing Mental Illness

Photo by Julie Ostler

Is the American population normalizing mental illness into society? If not a mental illness, then why are there so many signs of mental illness within the transgender community and also such high rates of suicide?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of transgender is “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”

A study done by The Williams Institute in 2016 found that 1.4 million people in America identify themselves as transgender. This is according to an analysis based on both state and federal data.

When asked about the high rates of suicide, Karen Deysher, program manager of LGBT Student Services, said, “it’s because of the way their environment is impacting them.”

Deysher continued by saying that because of the socialized views of gender, transgender people are not happy, because of how they are treated based on societal constructs that are not being met because of their gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is, by definition from the DSM, “a condition in which someone is intensely uncomfortable with their biological gender and strongly identifies with, and wants to be, the opposite gender.”

To back Deysher’s claim, the American Association of Suicidology, or AAS, states that, “stressors that LGBT individuals encounter — such as discrimination and harassment — are directly associated with suicidal behavior.”

In other words, the reason why there are so many suicides in the transgender community is because of discrimination. This is a very good point and is something that should be looked at. The problem with saying that discrimination is the only factor to suicide, however, is that data about other forms of discrimination does not correlate with such high rates of suicide.

According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, black people in America considered themselves way more discriminated against than whites. But looking at the data of suicide rates of black and whites, a white male has a 24.6 percent rate of suicide in comparison to a 9.4 percent rate of suicide for black males. In fact, the rates of suicide for people who are not white are significantly lower than those who are white.

This isn’t to say that discrimination against transgender individuals does not happen because that would be a lie. It does occur and all forms of discrimination are wrong. However, discrimination can’t be the only factor of transgender suicides.

The AAC website states, “Most people who die by suicide have a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder.” It also says that, “Psychiatric disorders, primarily depression and anxiety … ” are factors that contribute to suicide in the LGBT community.

A study done on gender dysphoria found that at least 62.7 percent of the sample of people getting sex reassignment surgery had at least one psychiatric comorbidity, which is the presence of one or more additional mental disorders.  Unfortunately, not many studies like this have been done.

Why hasn’t there been more research on the topic in order to prevent transgender suicides? Safe spaces and inclusion are one option, but not an actual solution. says that untreated mental illness is a key factor in 90 percent of all suicides. Only until recently the DSM changed it’s definition of “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria.” Is society ignoring mental illness or is it trying to normalize it?

The suicide rate for America is less than 3 percent. In fact, according to the 2015 USA Suicide Official Data, the rate of suicide was 1.6 percent. That said, the attempted suicide rate of transgender individuals is 41 percent according to a study done by The Williams Institute School of Law and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Data also shows that even after physical transitions to the opposite gender the rates of suicide get higher.

Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “It is a disorder similar to a ‘dangerously thin’ person suffering [from] anorexia who looks in the mirror and thinks they are ‘overweight.’”

The American College of Pediatricians, ACPeds, urges legislators to reject policies on transgender individuals in terms of sex changes, because of the harm it can do to a child who believes their life is normal based on chemical and surgical impersonation. “Facts —not ideology —determine reality”, said the ACPeds.

All in all, more research needs to be done on the subject. America needs to decide whether it will continue to normalize mental illness or further investigate and prevent deaths among its citizens. The AAC states that future research needs to be done in order to effectively make prevention and intervention strategies.

No one knows what these individuals are going through, therefore it is important that society does what it can to help those who are struggling with gender dysphoria Reach out to a friend, find someone to talk to and ultimately just be a nice and decent person. Help is always one phone-call away.

9 thoughts on “Is America Normalizing Mental Illness

  1. There are several problems in this article. First, you state that discrimination can’t be the primary reason for higher transgender suicide rates because blacks have lower suicide rates than whites despite having more discrimination. There are many more variables at play here than just discrimination and suicide rates. Level of social support is highly correlated with suicide rate, and it turns out that minority groups are much more collectivist and have more social support than white people generally. It would make sense that many transgender individuals do not have the same kind of social support from friends and family. And while white males have one of the highest suicide completion rates, just about every minority group has higher rates of mental illness like depression, suggesting again that discrimination plays a role in mental health outcomes.

    Your argument that being transgender should be considered a mental illness on its own is based on the assumption that discrimination is not the cause of their high rates of mental illness, but if it is then your argument falls flat on its face. If there is any research to show that treating transgenderism itself as a mental illness and suppressing it leads to better mental health outcomes, please point me to it because research already indicates that acceptance of gender identity leads to better mental health outcomes.

    Lastly, Dr. Paul Mchugh and the American College of Pediatrics are not credible sources on this topic. Dr. Mchugh’s recent research was not published in a peer reviewed journal, and very few medical professionals hold his conclusions. The American College of Pediatrics is a small religious conservative advocacy group. It’s the American Academy of Pediatrics that is the accepted medical organization.

    Please put some more time into doing legitimate research next time you write something like this, especially when it comes to an issue as sensitive as this one. Here’s a good start:

  2. Everything that Jonny said above. American College of Pediatrics? Really? Clearly rather than learning or reporting, you simply wanted to write something that would confirm your own biases. It is also shocking that while you wrote this at an institution of higher education, where you have a myriad of great research resources (including PhD’s) at your fingertips, instead of wandering up to the second floor of the classroom building to talk to an actual psychologist about this subject, you simply hit up google. Try again.

  3. Thank you to everyone who commented. I have done research on some of these questions, and completely agree that the information in this article is inaccurate, and the argument is poorly informed and therefore misguided. Moreover, although it displays some critical thought in questioning the discrepancy in suicide attempt rates between subjugated groups, it fails to continue that pattern in presenting and examining related evidence, and in reaching the conclusion that trans-ness must therefore be a mental illness.
    Some useful resources:
    The American College of Pediatricians is, indeed, not a reputable group. SPLC details some of their previous actions and the context of their formation as an “anti-LGBT hate group”:

    Many members of other subjugated minority groups are embedded in groups that provide support. Social support is a major factor that prevents suicidality. Trans people are less like to find this support, and may in fact be alienated from and maltreated by family (and society), even while and after they take steps to transition in whatever manner they desire–if they do so. Meanwhile, people of color (the article mentions black Americans) are likely to have family and friends who are also people of color, share similar experiences, and can provide a supportive, safer space.

    And indeed, an international study focusing in several cities around the world found that vulnerable adolescents whose social support increased also saw improved mental health.

    Given the inaccuracy of this opinion piece, and the danger it presents in continuing ill-informed biases (that can severely impact the quality of life for trans individuals), I think we need to focus on having it either edited significantly or removed. I do not usually take this attitude toward material that I may disagree with. However, in this case my proposal is based on the misinformation the piece is spreading, and the direct harm it is doing. I know it is already causing distress to UVU students and others.

  4. To clarify, when asked about why there is a high rate of suicide amongst transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, I stated that it was multi-causal. Yes, discrimination and harassment play a part, however there are many other causes, including the leading factor: family rejection. I highly recommend reading the Family Acceptance Project’s Supportive Families, Healthy Children:, to find out more.

    1. Yeah, it seems that perhaps the author only wants to hear one thing–and then only listens for that one thing. I’m sorry your words were treated so selectively.
      Families of other minorities are probably less likely to reject them (for being that type of minority/subjugated individual). Thus one of the break-downs in the logic of this piece!

  5. Ironically, the person mentioned in this article has directly harmed a transgender person with severe mental illness, leading to that person attempting suicide last summer.

  6. I’m glad you acknowledged that the American College of Pediatrics is a hate group in your paper edition response to this article, but the rest of your response was disappointing as you maintained your former statements without addressing the points that have been brought up. If you stick to your statements, you need to back them up otherwise they should be retracted because they support attitudes that are harmful to an at-risk population. Yes, you have the freedom to your opinion and voice, but that doesn’t mean that it is worthy of respect if it doesn’t have evidence to back it up. Two questions you could answer: if being transgender is a mental illness, then what treatment should trans individuals have, and what evidence is there that it works?

    Here are some studies and an article that indicate gender identity acceptance mitigates the mental health struggles that trans individuals have:

  7. Besides the overwhelmingly horrible argumentation, besides being oppressively ignorant, this article is also racist. Tyler, do you assume that all trans people are white? Your statistics assume that trans people don’t have intersecting identities, such as trans people of color. I’m assuming he didn’t think about it like that, because he didn’t have to. Tyler, please stop writing about experiences you do not have any knowledge of…

  8. Gender is not optional, unless you were born a hermaphrodite. Then and only then do you have a rational case supporting your choosing what sex you feel most inlined to identify with.
    If you were born with a penis and choose to have an outy tuned into an inny while constructing a vagina, have a breast job, shave your Adams apple, change your name to Melissa, have your hair lazer removed, cake on makeup and wear women’s clothes you are free to do so because this is America the home of the free.
    I believe that though you are free to do all of these things, I know there must be is major mental illness element involved with doing so.
    No matter what you do you are and always will be the gender of which you were born.

    As to the normalization of gender confusion;

    If you are anorexic and starve yourself, because you visualize yourself as being skinny. If you keep up with this you will die so doctors tell you that you have a mental illness and need help. They do not try to normalize your mental illness.

    If you are bulimic and puke food you eat you are deemed mentally I’ll and given treatment. They do not try to normalize your condition.

    If you drink to excesses you are deemed to have a disease and are treated before you die. They do not call it a habit as it is rather a mental addiction condition.

    If you cut yourself to release stress you are considered to have a mental condition and treated, you are not told it is normal and you were born that way so it is not your fault. 

    If you believe you are the opposite gender to the actual gender you were born as, you should not be told it is normal because you were in fact not born that way.

    Embrace you mental condition and stop trying to force people into accepting it as normal and you will be less inclined to commit suicide.

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