Psychiatry After Ferguson

As many of us know, the situation in Ferguson has caused trauma for many members of the community who have seen so much violence in the past few months. All of these tough situations have given rise to many more cases of trauma and distress, and so there has been an influx recently of mental health professionals focusing more on helping these people and identifying symptoms of PTSD and other trauma-related conditions.

However, as well-intentioned as these efforts are, we also have to realize that they pose the issue of dismissing oppressed and angry persons as just being mentally ill. While these mental health professionals may be benefitting those who are traumatized in the short term, they are also unintentionally making the problem worse because they’re trying to fix the behavior of blacks instead of trying to change the oppressive system that is causing the distress in the first place. Furthermore, historical context plays a role here because these methods also play into racial stereotypes that depict black people as being violent. Either way, the problem with the tactics that these mental health professionals are using is that they end up trying to treat the symptoms of the problem–namely, the stress and trauma that comes from their oppressed condition–and actually help to perpetuate the true source of the problem by not addressing it.

This is a complicated issue, because the field of psychiatry has come a long way with regards to reducing racist attitudes. That said, while very few psychiatrists are racist on a conscious level, it is still important for them to be aware of any implicit biases that they might still hold.