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The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the largest psychiatric organization in the world, sent an email to members on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death insisting that psychiatrists incorporate “anti-racism” into their practice.
The email encouraged psychiatrists to commit themselves to practice “anti-racism” with their patients and restated its commitment to achieving “mental health equity for all.”
“The murder of George Floyd by a police officer one year ago today forced conversations about the structural racism in the very roots of our nation,” the letter reads. “The American Psychiatric Association and psychiatry were forced to confront our own past as well as to examine how racism had entwined itself into our current operations and how racism was impacting our patients on a daily basis.”
An article from the June issue of Psychiatric News was cited as reason to implement “anti-racism.” The article quoted the APA’s minority/underrepresented trustee Rahn Bailey, who claims that the only way to eradicate racism is for everyone to embrace anti-racism as a concept.
Anti-racism was popularized by Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi following the publication of his controversial book “How to Be an Antiracist.” The ideology purports that being against racism is inadequate and the only way to rid the world of racism is to become a progressive activist.
Mental health professionals were also given suggestions for steps to “center racial equity” in their profession. The first suggestion was to “increase awareness and acknowledge that racism exists everywhere.”
Ayala Danzig, a fourth-year resident in the Yale University Department of Psychiatry, suggested that mental health professionals “audit” their panel of patients. Examples of an audit include checking to see if a mental health professional is disproportionately diagnosing black patients with psychotic illnesses or prescribing more substances to white patients.
“Ask yourself: What does it look like for you to center anti-racism,” said Dr. Michael Mensah.
“Does it mean introducing a sliding scale to help patients who can’t pay? Does it mean taking more Medicare and Medicaid patients than before? Does it mean taking a more active role in your local residence program to advocate for a more diverse residency class,” asked Mensah.
The mass email also linked to a resource document on “How Psychiatrists Can Talk with Patients and Their Families About Race and Racism.” The document included a slew of case vignettes including one where a hostile white person is described as being openly racist for not wanting to be treated by a black doctor. A similar case study discusses a timid black person who is kind-hearted about not wanting to be treated by a white doctor.
The scenario with the white man reads:
A 37-year-old White man is seeking treatment at a rural clinic for insomnia. He is assigned a Black psychiatrist and appears shocked to meet his new doctor. He even says “I do not want you to be my doctor. I can’t be treated by a Black person.”
The scenario with the black man reads:
A 50-year-old Black man is seeking treatment at a rural clinic for insomnia. He is assigned a White psychiatrist and is withdrawn during his assessment and shuts down after 45 minutes. The psychiatrist feels uncomfortable and uncertain why the patient has been so withdrawn and tense during the session. Suspecting discomfort with the racial dynamic in the room, the psychiatrist decides to hold off on any more questions and returns to alliance building.
The resources document also included a link to Kendi’s children’s book “Antiracist Baby,” among others.
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Ayala Danzig. It is attributable to Dr. Michael Mensah.