American Psychiatric Association’s “Apology” For Harming African Americans & People of Color Rejected as Disingenuous; Smacks of Vested Interests

American Psychiatric Association’s “Apology” For Harming African Americans & People of Color Rejected as Disingenuous
While the APA president says, ‘we hope to make amends for psychiatry’s history of actions,’ those amends shouldn’t include more damaging treatments and labeling the response to oppression and racism as a ‘mental disease.’ We need to see accountability for the impact of the APA ‘perpetrating structural racism.’– Rev. Fred Shaw

The APA’s apology on January 18, 2021 for decades of psychiatry’s racist harm comes when “mental health” research funds are now available to study the impact of racism and will lead to more minorities being targeted and drugged. The APA’s amends must be commensurate with the damage its members have caused.

By CCHR International
The Mental Health Watchdog
January 26, 2020

After more than 175 years, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has issued a formal apology for what it says is psychiatry’s “role in perpetrating structural racism” and “history of actions…that hurt Black, Indigenous, and People of Color” (BIPOC).[1] Responding to the statement, the Task Force Against Racism & Modern-Day Eugenics, established by mental health industry watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR), says the apology is not accepted and needs to go much further.

Rev. Fred Shaw, a spokesperson for the Task Force said the APA’s admission comes too late and is potentially prompted by the fact research funds into the impact of racism have become available. He said that, “As a member of the Black community, I don’t accept the apology, it’s disingenuous and linked to vested interests—to profit from the abuse of our community.” “Psychiatry,” he said, “has demonstrated to the Black community that it cannot be trusted. These are the people that laid the medical model for racism, who backed the eugenics theory of Black inferiority and never truly considered Blacks as human. Now, they want to pour gasoline on the fire by finding another way to capitalize and maximize on Black suffering.”[2]

The APA needs to provide specifics similar to what the German psychiatric association did when it publicly apologized in 1999 and 2010 for its role in the Holocaust, and more.

The APA’s statement says psychiatrists had subjected indigenous people to “abusive treatment, experimentation, victimization in the name of ‘scientific evidence,’ along with racialized theories that attempted to confirm their [mental/intellectual] deficit status.” It admits that it failed to declare support for the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit in 1954, which abolished racial segregation in schools. APA also didn’t support major civil rights legislation and its members diagnosed more Black than White patients with schizophrenia—something that CCHR has been exposing for decades, including an official report released in 1994. This meant an over-representation of Blacks being prescribed antipsychotics that can cause permanent damage.

CCHR said it had asked the APA in 2013 to issue a public apology to those impacted by mental health eugenics policies, of which racism is one—steeped in false claims that certain races were inferior and shouldn’t be allowed to procreate. CCHR’s demand to the then APA president, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, followed CCHR’s successful campaign for the German psychiatric association (DGPPN) to publicly apologize and admit to its role in Nazi psychiatric euthanasia and killing centers during WWII.

In 1999, DGPPN admitted that Nazi psychiatrists had “observed and controlled the selection of those to be killed” and “laid the scientific foundations of the euthanasia.”[3]

In 2010, Prof. Frank Schneider, President of the DGPPN, further broke the society’s 70-year silence and apologized for psychiatrists that had forced patients “to be sterilized, arranged their deaths and even performed killings themselves. Patients were killed either in the gas chambers, from lethal doses of drugs or by prescribed starvation.[4]

However, in 2009, the then APA president, Dr. Nada Stotland, refuted Nazi psychiatry’s role in the Holocaust, calling CCHR’s allegations of such, “patently ridiculous.”[5]

CCHR’s Task Force Against Racism & Modern-Day Eugenics was formed in support of the 2020 protests against racism throughout the U.S. It was critical of the American psychiatric and psychological associations for failing to admit to their role in racism but, instead, they asserted racism causes a host of mental disorders, which requires more access to treatment. In June 2020, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) posted the statement: “The APA believes that all forms of racism and racial discrimination affect mental health” and stressed that anyone upset by the civil unrest ongoing in America seek psychiatric treatment.[6]

Rev. Shaw, president of the NAACP Inglewood-South Bay, California branch, who helped found the Task Force, which comprises over 80 African American community leaders, warns the APA’s offered hand of help is the hand of betrayal, given psychiatry’s history: “The offer opens the door to capture and profit from the African American market, redefining the effects of oppression as a ‘mental illness’ that ‘needs’ to be ‘treated.’ APA doesn’t warn that this means more treatments that have already harmed in the past. Meanwhile, additional funds go into the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry pockets. We’ve seen this before.”

Shaw points to the 1960s, when psychiatrists invented the term “protest psychosis” to describe Blacks participating in the civil rights movement. It was used to stereotype Blacks as aggressive, with claims that Blacks protesting developed delusions and “dangerous aggressive dealings.”[7] Shaw adds that unlike the German psychiatric association that revoked all honors of those DGPPN presidents and officers involved in euthanasia/sterilization, there’s been no similar action taken by the APA.

For example, in 1792, Benjamin Rush, the “father of American psychiatry” declared that Blacks suffered from a “disease” called Negritude, which he theorized derived from leprosy. The “cure” was when their skin turned “white.” Like lepers, Rush said, Blacks needed to be segregated for their own good and to prevent their “infecting” others. Recorded on the Task Force’s website, while Rush is promoted as anti-slavery and was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, he was a slave owner and provided a “medical model”—still evident today—to justify “modern” racism, rationalizing, for example, that Blacks were able to endure surgical operations and pain with ease compared to whites, labeling this “pathological insensibility.”[8] Until recent years, Rush’s face was the official APA logo, but Rev. Shaw says Rush should be formally denounced.

The APA supported Dr. Franz Kallmann (1897-1965) from the New York Psychiatric Institute, who argued for the sterilization of healthy relatives of those labeled with schizophrenia, along with the patients themselves to eliminate the unproven theory that they had defective genes.[9] Before emigrating from Germany to the U.S. in 1936, Kallmann was a student of psychiatrist Ernst Rüdin, one of the architects of racial hygiene policies in Nazi Germany. Kallmann advocated sterilization of schizophrenics as the best means to stop the spread of the “disease” in future populations (African Americans were excessively diagnosed with schizophrenia).[10]

Prof. Schneider cited Rüdin in his public apology, referring to Rüdin’s “truly perverse view” about sterilization and revoked all his honors.

Yet from the 1940s, the APA’s journal ran an annual “progress” report authored by Kallmann about “Progress in Psychiatry-Heredity and Eugenics.”[11] The journal published Kallman’s acknowledgment of Rüdin upon his death in the early 1950s.[12] In a 1938 study, Kallman had referred to the mentally ill as “a source of maladjusted crooks, the lowest type of criminal offender…even the most faithful believer in liberty would be better off without those….”[13]

In the 1960s-1970s, U.S. federally funded welfare programs enforced coercive sterilization of thousands of poor black women. Under threat of termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care, many black women “consented” to sterilization procedures. Girls as young as 9 years old were sterilized.[14]

APA has not revoked any recognition of those U.S. psychiatrists involved in racism. Rather, it apologizes for the “inequities in access to quality psychiatric care” and “research opportunities.”

The statement also says:

  • “Unfortunately, the APA has historically remained silent on these issues.”
  • “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.”
  • “The treatment system they created and the organization they founded aligned with that era’s racist social/political policies.”[15]

However, Rev. Shaw says the Task Force wants to warn those categorized as BIPOC to look at the history of the psychiatric treatments given them that have harmed in the name of mental health care, including psychotropic drugs with debilitating physical and mental side effects and electroshock treatment. He says: “While the APA president says, ‘we hope to make amends for psychiatry’s history of actions,’ those amends shouldn’t include more damaging treatments and labeling the response to oppression and racism as a ‘mental disease.’ We need to see accountability for the impact of the APA ‘perpetrating structural racism.’”

To reiterate his comments posted on the Task Force website, Rev. Shaw says: “People need proper and effective healthcare, not damaging drugs and electroshock that passes for mental health treatment today. Funds should be redirected from psychiatry into safe, accountable non-psychiatric medical care and social programs. This is especially true for the African American community, given psychiatry’s long history of racist eugenics theories which still permeate modern day mental health care.”

References:

[1] Megan Brooks, “APA Apologizes for Past Support of Racism in Psychiatry,” Medscape, 19 Jan 2019, https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/944352?src=wnl_edit_tpal&uac=345404PY&impID=3143084&faf=1

[2] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/messages/2020/racism-and-mental-health-research-steps-toward-equity.shtml

[3] “In Memorium,” German Assoc. for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN), 1999

[4]  “Psychiatry under National Socialism – Remembrance and Responsibility,” Speech by Prof. Frank Schneider, Nov. 2020, https://www.dgppn.de/en/Core-areas/psychiatry-in-time-of-National-Socialism/speech-schneider.html#0; Frank Schneider, M.D., “Psychiatry under National Socialism: Remembrance and Responsibility,” European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, Volume 261, Article number: 111 (2011), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00406-011-0243-1; “Registered, persecuted, annihilated: the sick and the disabled under National Socialism,” DGPPN, https://www.dgppn.de/en/Core-areas/psychiatry-in-time-of-National-Socialism/travelling-exhibition.html; https://www.dgppn.de/en/Core-areas/psychiatry-in-time-of-National-Socialism/stations-of-the-exhibition-1.html

[5] CCHR letter filed with APA President, Jeffrey Lieberman, incoming APA president, San Francisco, 19 May 2013

[6] “APA Condemns Racism in All Forms, Calls for End to Racial Inequalities in U.S.,” 1 June 2020, https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/apa-condemns-racism-in-all-forms-calls-for-end-to-racial-inequalities-in-u-s

[7] Jonathan M. Metzl, The Protest Psychosis, How Schizophrenia became a Black Disease, (Beacon Press, Boston, 2009), p. xiv.

[8] https://www.cchrtaskforce.org/articles/mental-health-racism

[9] Volker Roelcke, “Eugenic concerns, scientific practices: international relations in the establishment of psychiatric genetics in Germany, Britain, the USA and Scandinavia, c.1910–60, History of Psychiatry, 1 Nov. 2018, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0957154X18808666

[10] https://epdf.pub/eugenics-and-the-nature-nurture-debate-in-the-twentieth-century.html

[11] Gary Null, Ph.D., “The Hidden Side of Psychiatry,” https://issuu.com/ariox/docs/the_hidden_side_of_psychiatry

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] http://mississippiappendectomy.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/black-women-in-the-1960s-and-1970s/; “On Indigenous Peoples Day, recalling forced sterilizations of Native American women,” Minnesota Post, 14 Oct. 2019, https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2019/10/on-indigenous-peoples-day-recalling-forced-sterilizations-of-native-american-women/

[15] https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/apa-apology-for-its-support-of-structural-racism-in-psychiatry; https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/historical-addendum-to-apa-apology