How Mental Health Practitioners Failed Former Enslaved African Americans

Victoria Robinson, a senior at Dillard University in New Orleans who is majoring in psychology, has published a new study on the mental health of enslaved African Americans after they were emancipated following the Civil War.

Robertson’s research uncovered a phenomenon in the collective mental health of Black Americans in the years following their years of enslavement. She examined arguments from nineteenth-century mental health professionals that freedom from enslavement was the cause of the rise in insanity among Black Americans. Robertson then investigated the claims that were used to discriminate against the formerly enslaved people and the evolution of mental health care in the Black community.

What intrigued Robinson the most was the substantial role that late nineteenth-century mental health practitioners played in the oppression of African Americans. Additionally, Robertson noted the subsequent “propagation of racist arguments that malign the mental capacities of Black Americans.”

Robertson’s research brought into focus a long history of abuse of African Americans at the hands of mental health professionals. “This underscores one of the many reasons that Black Americans are mistrustful of therapists, they have been mistreated by them since the origins of the profession,” she says.

The study, “Black Sanity: Understanding Mental Health Diagnoses Post Emancipation,” arrears in the Macksey Journal published by Johns Hopkins University. It may be accessed here.

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