[W]hile obvious bias can’t be easily discounted, sometimes misdiagnoses are the unintended side effects of persistent cultural misunderstandings. [Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University and author of the book “The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease”] argues that racial tensions are structured into clinical interactions long before doctors and patients meet in the exam room.In the early 1970’s a series of influential studies established the fact that people of color were often over-diagnosed with much more severe mental illnesses than their white counterparts. When psychiatrist miss the mark so consistently, one obvious side effect is that persistent — though perhaps less severe — mental illnesses often go untreated.
Metzl notes that black men are historically underdiagnosed with illnesses like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.
“There’s a mistrust of psychiatry that I think is very well-founded. In the 1960’s we see very clearly that psychiatric experts were pathologizing civil rights protests and particularly black power protests as being insane. And it’s very hard to turn around from that and say, ‘Oh no, we made a mistake, please trust us.’ If you have a history of pathologizing legitimate political protests as mental illness, you set conditions for mistrust on both sides.”
– From “Young, Depressed, and Of Color: Why Schools and Doctors Get It Wrong,” by Jamilah King, for Colorlines