Language Impacts Society: “Sex,” “Gender,” and Depression in Patients

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Confusing language can make life for this person unnecessarily depressing: Photo by Dws101

Too often in society, we use terms that we do not fully understand. We have all used words incorrectly from time to time. Some people use “effect” when they mean “affect”. Others will say “who” when they should say “whom”. One instance where the misuse of words results in depression, anxiety, and potentially suicidal thoughts is the use of “sex” and “gender.”

Sex and gender have vastly different meanings, and are not entirely interchangeable. Despite their different meanings and legal connotations, the words are often used incorrectly, causing serious problems and consequences for those affected by their use.

According to the World Health Organization, “sex” is the biological and physiological presence of male or female characteristics, while “gender” refers to behaviors, attributes, and activities. In other words, gender is the abstract presentation of being male or female.

The Transgender Community Most Impacted

The transgender community faces the largest portion of the problems created by the incorrect use of “sex” and “gender.” For a transgendered person, the decision to change from one gender to another is not easy, often requiring years of therapy, understanding, transitioning, acceptance, discrimination, and pressure. For many transgendered persons, the decision to make the move from male to female, or from female to male, comes after years of internal turmoil. The decision is hard on the individual, often costing them every friend and family member they have.

Already, these individuals have higher levels of depression than society as a whole, leading to a higher suicide rate. A 2010 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed suicide rates of 41 percent amongst transgender persons, compared to 1.6 percent in the national population. The study also showed high rates of bullying in a transgendered person’s daily lives due to gender expression.

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