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The black community has a held a distrust for the psychiatric filed for a long time, but only now is some tanglible proof surfacing that at least one disorder — schizophrenia — may be over-diagnosed among African-Americans. Schizophrenia is an incurable mental illness that may involve delusions, hallucinations, and patterns of destructive behavior and paranoia; there is no cure. Blacks are diagnosed as schizophrenic way more often than other races, with studies showing the rate of the disease to be between two to two-and-a-half times that of whites. But research now show that doctors are likely biased in making these conclusions, even if they do not know the race of the patient they are evaluating.

Even when African American patients showed significant signs of a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it was the severity of their psychotic symptoms that jumped off the page to the color-blinded psychiatrists. For white patients, even psychiatrists blinded to race were more likely to balance signs of psychosis with signs of a mood disorder.

In other words, as the black community struggles to accept and handle the very real existence of depression among us, doctors are often viewing our illness as psychosis, warranting treatment plans that are incompatible with our real needs. It all comes down to the old “paranoid, fearful black person” trope that considers African-American suspicion of discrimination ridiculous.

“In African American subjects, psychotic symptoms may be overvalued by clinicians, skewing diagnoses toward schizophrenia-spectrum conditions,” the authors of the new study write. They suggest that “previous discriminatory experiences, and reactions to them, i.e. healthy paranoia,” may lead some African Americans to express their fears and anxieties in ways that are interpreted as more extremely psychotic, or that delays in seeking treatment may make their psychotic symptoms more prominent than evidence of their mood instability.

One can only hope that more African-Americans participate in the field of psychiatry and educate their colleagues about the way that people of different backgrounds communicate.

Read more at The LA Times.

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  • gmarie

    I doubt we suffer from Schizophrenia anymore than any other community, but we definitely suffer from it more than what has been reported. This was a topic of discussion with my family recently when it was suggested one of our relatives may be suffering from mental illness. My uncle’s response? “Black people are supposed to be strong and fight through it”. Sad indeed.

  • girlformerlyknownasgrace

    It is things like this that frustrate me when it comes to mental health. Conditions like eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders look like one thing in the psychology discourse, but in the real world, they can be heavily culture and environment-influenced. One person can go undiagosed for years while another person gets the wrong diagosis.

    One thing to consider is, for health insurance reasons, it is alot easier for psychologists to classify you as bipolar or schizophrenia. That way you keep getting the treatment you need as opposed to no treatment at all. I dont believe it is easy to get treatment for depression compared to these more “severe” conditions. It makes you think of what gets classfied as severe in terms of mental health for law and policy makers.

  • Val

    “One can only hope that more African-Americans participate in the field of psychiatry…”

    That’s what I hope as well. That will go a long way to mitigating the racism/ bias that exists in the field.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    the system of white supremacy will induce mental illness in black people……

  • My Aunt was misdiagnosed as a young adult with Schizophrenia. We later found out as a family that she had bipolar disorder. She was unable to work (she was a domestic) and was forced to ride a roller coaster of emotions and side-effects from medications she shouldn’t have taken. For years Whites “couldn’t have” schizophrenia and African-Americans could be bipolar…