Can Racism Drive You Mad?

I have heard many times in my life that “living in this place (UK) will drive you mad”. Could there be any truth in this?

Apu Chakrabort & Kwame McKenzie (2002) did a review looking at ‘does racial discrimination cause mental illness?’ for The British Journal of Psychiatry. This is what they found:

  • High prevalence rates of depression in both South Asian and African—Caribbean populations

  • High incidence and prevalence rates of psychosis in African—Caribbean groups

  • These high rates have not been reported in the countries of origin of these ethnic groups, which led their research to investigate possible causes within the UK

  • For instance, an association between biological risk factors and the rates of psychosis in African—Caribbean people has not been demonstrated (Not an individual deficiency of being black therefore more susceptible of being mentally unwell)

  • One social risk factor frequently identified by service users and increasingly by academics is racism

  • Measurement of perceived racism is complicated by its possible overlap with paranoid ideation and an external locus of control (meaning that is unclear if person reporting racism is paranoid that society is racist or blame their misfortune because of their race)

  • However, research has concluded racism is form of a stressor. An individual’s perception of society as racist and the experience of everyday minor acts of discrimination are thought to constitute a chronic stressor.

  • Life events in African and African—Caribbean patients with psychosis are as likely to suffer life events as Whites but more likely to attribute them to racism.

  • Persons of Caribbean, African and Asian origin in a study were asked about racial discrimination from their previous year. Those who had experienced verbal abuse were 3 times more likely to be suffering from depression or psychosis. Those who had experienced a racist attack were nearly 3 times more likely to suffer from depression and 5 times more likely to suffer from psychosis. Those who said their employers were racist were 1.6 times more likely to suffer from a psychosis. There is no published longitudinal research (study of a long period of time, typically years) that has investigated an association between racial discrimination and mental illness.

  • A 2-fold increase in the incidence of psychosis in people from ethnic minority groups in London wards with a low percentage of ethnic minority inhabitants compared with those living in areas with high ethnic minority population densities.

  • Fernando (1991) has argued that since European psychiatry developed when racist doctrines were rife in Western culture, the ideology of racism became incorporated into it as a discipline. He concludes that the emphasis on an individualised pathology, with insufficient attention paid to social pressures such as race and culture, renders psychiatry a racist institution.

  • In the UK, widespread discriminatory social policy (like stop and search, war on drugs, urban program) may influence the rates of mental illnesses, their presentation and outcome.

  • Institutional discrimination is also reflected in the lack of research for an effective response to these societal influences which, in turn, perpetuates social disparity. Community groups in the UK claim that much has been published about increased rates of illness, but there have been few interventions.

  • “Mental health research into the effects of racial discrimination runs the risk of medicalising appropriate social struggle and distress (e.g. affordable rent, equal wages, etc). Focusing on those discriminated against in this way may only serve to maintain the institution’s power over the victimised group, while running the risk of stereotyping the group’s identity as nothing more than a response to racism. It has been argued that there should be a closer examination of those bodies that discriminate, rather than their victims.”

  • Even though this study is 15 years old, I think its attempt to set a foundation for psychiatry community to build on his commendable. As a psychologist, I am telling you that this industry is built on white supremacy and have no invested interest in fixing the the over-representation of Blacks diagnoses of mental illnesses, underrepresntation of Black recieving support and treatment; as well as acknowledging our poor conditions as the context of what is causing and pertaining mental illnesses in the Black and ethnic minoritis.

Can you imagine if the government actually tackled racial discrimination in causing the African mind to sick due to daily inflected traumas, gun and knife violence orchestrated in our neighbourhoods, unemployment and debt that targets Black families leading a lot of people, especially men to turn to addictions and suicide? The amount of reparations they will have to pay wuld leave this country finncially bankrupt.

What is the solution you may ask? We need our own mental health infrastruture that understands the African mind, psychological models that fit our social-cultural experiences, set our own social norms to measure what is normal behaviour to the African  and have Black practioners taucght from the afrocentric psychological studies.

Stay Black and sane.


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