The American Psychiatric Association issued an apology statement in January 2021 for its support of structural racism in psychiatry. The organization noted, among other points, that,

“…practitioners have at times subjected persons of African descent and Indigenous people who suffered from mental illness to abusive treatment, experimentation, victimization in the name of ‘scientific evidence,’ ….. These appalling past actions, as well as their harmful effects, are ingrained in the structure of psychiatric practice and continue to harm BIPOC psychological well-being even today. Unfortunately, the APA has historically remained silent on these issues. “

Psycom Pro Editorial Advisory Board Member Danielle Hairston, MD – faculty member and Psychiatry Residency Training Director at Howard University College of Medicine and President of the American Psychiatric Association Black Caucus – shared the following.

“My co-fellow and colleague Racquel Reid, MD, wrote a response to the apology on Medium. The letter is important because it validates and acknowledges that psychiatry has participated in discriminatory and abusive practices directed at Black Americans,” said Dr. Hairston. “More important than the letter, is what will follow. Psychiatry and all specialties of medicine have been complicit in systemic racism. The letter is overdue, and action should be the only focus for the future.”

Part of Dr. Reid’s comments include:

“It could easily be said that this behavior is no fault of the APA. A plausible argument indeed, if I’d never sat in various cold APA conference auditoriums listening to amplified voices of the distinguished presenters as colleagues of color whispered tales of mistreatment by those same notable guests. Psychiatrists of color have been fighting for decades for recognition and leadership capable of protecting themselves and their patients…

In short, the APA statement is quite literally, too little, too late…

This apology is a statement that should have been written before I was born, with actionable aims enacted before I entered medical school, from an organization that has existed since before slavery ended in the United states….”

Psycom Pro hopes to share more voices on this important issue. As an example, this UK psychology student questioned the timing of the apology release in a blog.  Last summer, the Washington Post reported on the shortage of black psychiatrists in the US. A recent paper dives into the impact of colonialism on Black psychology, with a focus on African nations, while Kevin Cokley, PhD, wrote about why Black psychology matters here at home.

Editor’s Note:

Throughout July 2021 – designated as BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month (Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month), Drs. Hairston and Reid are curating a collection of articles that address the ongoing impact of structural racism on the mental health of Black Americans.

Share your thoughts by emailing the editor.

Last Updated: Jun 30, 2021