Are Mental Diagnoses Based on Racial Bias?

Is the model of mental health based on an idealist concept of an educated European American?

Portrait of BoyThe American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). First published in 1952, the DSM classifies and categorizes mental conditions it supposes are mentally ill or defective. Alisha Ali, PHD, from NYU, stated “The central issue underlying the problem of racial bias in psychiatric diagnosis is the dominance of a white, Western viewpoint in psychiatry. Because of this viewpoint, the kinds of behavior most likely to be considered normal in DSM classification are those that are acceptable within mainstream society.” Ali goes on to say, “Even the inclusion of a list of so-called “culture-bound syndromes” in an appendix of the DSM perpetuates this biased viewpoint, because a clinician applying such culture-bound labels is nevertheless expected to adhere to the DSM authors’ approach to diagnostic formulation.”

Washington Post reporter Shankar Vedantam wrote in a 2005 article, “John Zeber recently examined one of the nation’s largest databases of psychiatric cases to evaluate how doctors diagnose schizophrenia . . . [t]he scientist found that blacks in the United States were more than four times as likely to be diagnosed with the disorder as whites. Hispanics were more than three times as likely to be diagnosed as whites. Zeber, who studies quality, cost and access issues for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, found that differences in wealth, drug addiction and other variables could not explain the disparity in diagnoses: “The only factor that was truly important was race.”

Should a Mexican American child be labeled as ADD if the child cannot learn to read and write in English well? Should a Mexican American elderly women be labeled “hyper-religious” if they communicate with God or the Holy Spirit? The questions are moot. This is already being done. There are no absolute tests and subjectivity can be hard to interpret. However, the numbers and case studies speak for themselves. Those who feel they are being racially discriminated should take a stand. Failure to racially assimilate is not a mental disorder.