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Intersex identities and mental health

Lavender circle on yellow background representing intersex flag

Being intersex is not a mental health condition. However, rates of mental health challenges for intersex youth and adults are higher than the general population.

Intersex people are born with a variety of differences in their sexual and reproductive anatomy. This means they may have genitals, chromosomes, or hormones that do not fit into the typical ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories. There are at least 40 different types of intersex variations. Gender identities and sexual orientations among intersex people vary greatly.

What Challenges Do Intersex People Face That Impact Mental Health?

It is important to note the unique reasons people in the intersex community may struggle with their mental health:

Many children born intersex undergo non-consensual surgeries. These surgeries are not medically necessary. They are completed so children fit into the typical binary gender categories of “man” or “woman.” This can have a damaging psychological impact on intersex people. No one can “make” a child maintain a particular gender identity based on a surgery done in infancy. Trauma from these surgeries may live in the body even if the memories do not.

In 2020, 88% of intersex individuals experienced discrimination from a health care provider. This discrimination included refusal of care, harsh language, or physical abuse. Many intersex individuals avoid going to the doctor because of the anxiety and trauma that comes with these experiences. This can impact their ability to receive care for both physical and mental health concerns.

In the past, being intersex was wrongly described as a medical condition called “disorder of sexual development” (DSD). This way of referring to intersex individuals increases social stigma. Social stigma negatively influences the way intersex people are treated in society. Poor mental health outcomes of intersex people are impacted by discrimination they face in society.

The stress and uncertainty that comes with struggling with finances can make it more likely for a person to develop a mental health condition. More than four in five intersex people report that discrimination has affected their financial well-being by making it more challenging to find employment.

How Can I Be An Ally To The Intersex Community?

Be accepting of intersex people and their identity. Acceptance can reduce the risk of suicide, especially among young people. Studies show that intersex youth who had one caregiver that respected their identity were less likely to attempt suicide.

Remove stigma by reminding people that being intersex is not a disorder. Learn from intersex creators and authors. The more people are educated on the topic, the less stigma intersex people will have to face.

Use inclusive language. Remind people not to use outdated terms such as “hermaphrodite.” This word is considered offensive. It is also important to avoid generalizations in your descriptions of people. You can say things like: “typically, girls have XX chromosomes” instead of “all girls have XX chromosomes.”

Advocate for and with intersex people by supporting organizations that work for their well-being. Remind people that laws affecting gender non-conforming people tend to affect intersex people as well. You can also recognize Intersex Awareness Day on Oct. 26 by making intersex identities visible. You could speak out against non-consensual intersex surgery on infants and children in your community. You could also give an “Intersex 101” presentation as an ally at your job. Find ways to incorporate your allyship efforts throughout the year.

Take a Mental Health Test

If you are struggling with your mental health, take an anonymous, free, and private mental health test. It only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about the next steps you can take based on the results.

Take a screen

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.

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