What is Gender Dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria refers to a discomfort or conflict with one’s biological sex, the associated gender assigned at birth, and the gender with which one identifies. The distress caused by this disparity can be extremely intense and interfere with the individual’s day-to-day life. Gender dysphoria can have mental health complications including anxiety and depression.
The condition of gender dysphoria relates directly to gender identity. Gender identity is defined as how one sees themselves in relation to gender. It’s the sense of self that causes one to have a binary identity (male or female), or a non-binary indentity (gender non-conforming, agender, genderqueer). While one may have male genitals, for example, they may not identify as a male.
Gender dysphoria may impact transgender or gender non-conforming people. But, it’s not a given. Those who are transgender or gender non-conforming may feel comfortable with their bodies and gender identities.
It’s important to note that gender dysphoria isn’t a mental illness. The term “gender dysphoria” may be used as a diagnosis to indicate a person’s distress over their biological gender and gender identity - not their identity alone. Gender dysphoria is used as an official diagnosis so that people in this situation who need mental health support are able to get it.
Signs of Gender Dysphoria
Signs of gender dysphoria can differ significantly between patients. People have different experiences and feelings towards gender identity.
That said, the main sign of gender dysphoria is a clear difference between one’s gender identity and sex characteristics. This difference typically becomes noticeable in young adolescents as they begin to develop and recognize their sexuality. However, gender dysphoria can become apparent earlier or later in life. Gender dysphoria can also come and go throughout your life.
Signs of gender dysphoria that one may recognize in themselves include:
- Strongly wanting to get rid of sex characteristics that you don’t identify with
- Strongly wanting sex characteristics of the other gender
- Strongly wanting to be a gender other than one’s biological gender
- Strongly wanting to be seen as a gender other than one’s biological gender
- In young teens, strongly wanting to stop the development of sex characteristics
- A strong feeling that one feels and acts like a gender other than one’s biological gender
Signs of gender dysphoria that one may recognize in others include:
- Low self-confidence or low body image
- Signs of depression and/or anxiety
- Recklessness or dangerous behavior
- Failing to take care of themselves
- Distress in social, professional, and family settings
How is Gender Dysphoria Treated?
With treatment, people who have gender dysphoria can achieve relief from distress. By establishing a gender role with which they feel comfortable, those in treatment for gender dysphoria can lead happier, healthier lives.
There’s no one method of treatment for gender dysphoria. What works for one person may not work for another. Personalized treatment plans are essential for gender dysphoria, and a medical professional can help you determine the right course of action.
Common treatment methods for gender dysphoria include hormone therapy, surgery, and behavioral therapy.
Hormone Therapy and Surgery
Hormone therapy and surgery can help people achieve a new gender role that aligns with their gender identity. These treatment methods are generally used for feminization or masculinization. People may also find these methods helpful for reducing sex characteristics that they’re uncomfortable with, like facial hair.
The availability of hormone therapy and/or surgery for gender dysphoria is subject to certain criteria. Age, pre-existing medical conditions, and documentation of gender dysphoria can impact your ability to receive these treatments.
Behavioral therapy can be helpful in improving the mental wellbeing and quality of life for people with gender dysphoria. Rather than focusing on changing one’s gender role, behavioral therapy is centered on reducing the distress and other mental concerns associated with gender dysphoria.
Through behavioral therapy, people with gender dysphoria can better understand their gender identity and achieve self-acceptance. Therapy can also help patients develop a network of support as they transition to a new gender role.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.