July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Rev. Frederick Shaw (PRNewsfoto/Citizens Commission on HRI)

During July’s National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, the mental health watchdog group, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) warns of the over-representation of minorities being potentially harmed by psychotropic drugs or electroconvulsive-electroshock treatment. The group sees that stigmatizing, racial-profiling-labels leads to minorities being a target for psychiatric treatment.

According to IQVia Total Patient Tracker (TPT) Database for 2017, obtained by CCHR, there are a staggering 80,233,280 Americans taking psychiatric drugs, of which over 7.2 million are children and adolescents. Factoring in a study of welfare children in California receiving mental health services and applying its findings nationally, potentially in the U.S. 55.9% of those children receiving such services are Latino-Hispanic and 19.6% are Black.

Various classes of psychotropic drugs prescribed to them have the potential to cause hostility, aggression, dependence, central nervous and heart problems, obesity, diabetes, suicidal thoughts and suicide. And when these don’t “work,” then electroshock therapy — up to 460 volts of electricity sent through the brain — is administered. It can result in memory loss, brain damage and other serious side effects. Thousands of petition signatures support a ban on the treatment. Read and sign the petition here.

CCHR’s International President, Jan Eastgate says, “No one should be subjected to electroshock as it is a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” She said that Blacks have been a target for electroshock, especially in South Africa, where it was administered in the 1970s without an anesthetic—endangering their lives by fracturing bones—because the Chief of Psychiatric Services for a chain of private psychiatric institutions claimed: “We don’t use anesthetics for non-Whites. It’s simply too expensive, too slow and too risky.”

CCHR filed complaints with the World Health Organization (WHO) that led to an investigation into what were called psychiatric slave labor camps during apartheid. WHO’s findings in 1983, reported: “Although psychiatry is expected to be a medical discipline which deals with the human being as a whole, in no other medical field in South Africa is the contempt of the person, cultivated by racism, more concisely portrayed than in psychiatry.”

It is that history of psychiatric racism that has put African Americans and also Hispanic and Native American children and families at risk. Eastgate and Rev. Frederick Shaw, a Vice President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Inglewood-South Bay branch and an executive at CCHR International, collaborated on a report on the history of psychiatric racism, which shows from the birth of American psychiatry to today, there is good reason for minorities to be concerned about mental health treatment offered them. Rev. Shaw said: “There’s been a history of psychiatrists’ racial profiling of African Americans and other minorities as ‘violent,’ then drugging, electroshocking or even performing psychosurgery on them.”

  • Psychiatrist, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), the “father of American psychiatry” believed that Blacks suffered from a rare “disease” called “negritude” derived from leprosy which was “cured,” when the skin turned white, according to the late Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry. Rush used this to justify Blacks needing to be segregated and not intermarry to prevent the spread of this fictitious “disease.” He also believed that because of their “leprosy,” Blacks did not feel pain like others, recalling cases where a Black man held the upper part of a limb during amputation, labeling this as “pathological insensibility.” Rev. Shaw, who in 2005 received the “Men who care award” from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said this attitude continued into the 1970s when electroshock was given without anesthetic or muscle relaxant, including to pregnant women.
  • In the 1940s, U.S. psychiatrist Walter Freeman (1895-1972) believed that African-American psychiatric patients, especially women, were among the best candidates for lobotomy because of what he called “the greater family solidarity manifested by these people.” Freeman meant that in his opinion Black families were more likely to give their relatives who survived the lobotomy devoted post-operative care.
  • Psychosurgery was performed on Black and other children as young as five to control “hyperactive” and “aggressive” behavior. Their brains were implanted with electrodes that were heated up to melt areas of the brain that regulate emotion and intellect.
  • In 1968, three Boston-based psychosurgeons established a “Violence Center” in Boston, Massachusetts, theorizing that urban rebellions were caused by brain-damaged individuals who could be cured by psychosurgery (lobotomy). In 1970, they received grants of half a million dollars from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  • According to Jonathan M. Metzl, a Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and author of The Protest Psychosis, How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, in 1968 psychiatrists writing in the Archives of General Psychiatry, claimed Black men had developed “hostile and aggressive feelings” after listening to civil rights leaders, which was evidence of “schizophrenia.” Advertisements for powerful antipsychotic drugs in psychiatric journals showed angry Black men or African tribal symbols to influence the prescriptions of these drugs to African Americans, Metlz reported.
  • In the early 1970s, Los Angeles psychiatrist Louis Jolyon (“Jolly”) West (1924-1999) of the University of California Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute claimed that riots were tied to genetic and racial factors. He called for Black and Hispanic children suspected of violent behavior to undergo chemical castration, psychosurgery or experimental drugs, incorporating computer databases to track “pre-delinquent” youth for “preemptive” treatment for the “alteration of undesirable behavior.”West’s plans were the subject of hearings by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1974 and with opposition from groups, including CCHR, the plan was stopped.
  • In the 1990s, a NIMH director compared urban inner city youth (mostly Black or Hispanic) with “hyperaggressive” and “hypersexual” monkeys in a jungle. He approved funding for a national “Violence Initiative” estimating that some 100,000 children, some as young as five, would be identified as needing “psychiatric intervention.”
  • Between 1985 and 1997, Duke University’s psychology department carried out research on “Black preadolescents at Social Risk,” which targeted predominantly African-American, low-income and urban families. Intensive assessment of “conduct problems” and delinquency was carried out and aggression was tested in eight-year-olds. Follow-up assessment was done until they were 21 years old, tracked by “police records on delinquency, school records on truancy and drop-out, and public health records on teen pregnancy.”
  • In the 1990s, two New York psychiatric facilities had given 100 children aged six to 10 and who were younger brothers of juvenile delinquents—mostly African American and Hispanic—the drug fenfluramine (fen-phen) to test the theory that violent or criminal behavior may be predicted by levels of certain brain chemicals. Parents of the participants received $125 each, including a $25 “Toys ‘R’ Us” gift certificate. The drug can cause rapid heartbeat, nausea, nervousness, or anxiety.

Wrongly targeting minorities as violent or delinquent has been systemic in the mental health system. Professor Herb Kutchins, co-author Making Us Crazy—DSM: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders notes, “Defenders of slavery, proponents of racial segregation…have consistently attempted to justify oppression by inventing new mental illnesses and by reporting higher rates of abnormality among African Americans or other minorities.”

Rev. Shaw said that this continues today, citing one of the organizers of the National Minority Mental Health Month, as claiming African Americans are 20% more likely to “experience serious mental health problems than the general population.” Rev. Shaw rejects this, saying the conflicts of interest between the organizer and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture psychiatric drugs, fuels a stigma against his community and minorities in general.

Eastgate and Rev. Shaw say that alternative means of help are needed and that literacy and sports programs, and art and music education would be therapeutic as opposed to a mind-altering drug or electroshock. They point to a tendency for psychiatrists to make minorities appear to be victims of oppression, rather than their responding naturally to the trauma oppression brings.


SOURCE: Citizens Commission on Human Rights International

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