Monday, January 18, 2021

APA Issues Apology for History of Racism Contributing to Discrimination, MH Care Inequities

The APA Board of Trustees today issued an apology for APA’s history of racism and for “enabling discriminatory and prejudicial actions within APA and racist practices in psychiatric treatment for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).” The statement of apology—addressed to members, patients, their families, and the public—is accompanied by a document outlining specific practices and policies (including failures to speak out and protest racist practices) that have damaged BIPOC patients and their families dating to the time of the founding of APA.

“The Board is issuing this document on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because we hope that it honors his life’s work of reconciliation and equality,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., in a press statement. “We do not take that legacy or his call to action lightly.”

In the statement, APA’s trustees acknowledged that early psychiatric practices laid the groundwork for the inequities in clinical treatment that have historically limited access to quality psychiatric care for BIPOC.

“These actions sadly connect with larger social issues, such as race-based discrimination and racial injustice, that have furthered poverty along with other adverse outcomes,” according to the statement. “Since APA’s inception, practitioners have at times subjected persons of African descent and Indigenous people who suffered from mental illness to abusive treatment, experimentation, victimization in the name of ‘scientific evidence,’ along with racialized theories that attempted to confirm their deficit status. Similar race-based discrepancies in care also exist in medical practice today as evidenced by the variations in schizophrenia diagnosis between white and BIPOC patients, for instance.”

The statement continues, “Unfortunately, APA has historically remained silent on these issues. As the leading American organization in psychiatric care, APA recognizes that this inaction has contributed to perpetuation of structural racism that has adversely impacted not just its own BIPOC members, but also psychiatric patients across America. … We hope this apology will be a turning point as we strive to make the future of psychiatry more equitable for all.”

The apology is part of an initiative begun by Geller soon after he became president last April to address structural racism in psychiatry and eradicate it. Carrying out this work is a task force whose goals are to provide education and resources on APA’s and psychiatry’s history regarding structural racism, explain the current impact of structural racism on the mental health of patients and colleagues, develop achievable recommendations for change to eliminate structural racism in APA and psychiatry now and in the future, and provide reports with specific recommendations for achievable actions to the APA Board of Trustees at each of its meetings through May. This work will continue beyond Geller’s one-year presidency.

“Many will argue this apology should have come sooner,” said Geller. “That said, the events of 2020—the killings of Black people by police, the health inequities laid bare by the pandemic—were an eye-opener for many among our membership and a clarion call that it was past time to take action.”

Said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., “The Board of Trustees of APA has taken an important step in issuing this apology. The APA administration is committed to working toward achieving inclusion, health equity, and fairness that everyone deserves.”

For more information on the task force, see the Psychiatric News article APA Task Force Charged With Examining Structural Racism Throughout Psychiatry. 

APA’s Next Town Hall to Examine How Racism Affects Diversity in Psychiatric Workforce

Register now for the town hall “Structural Racism & Psychiatric Residency Training: Recruitment, Retention, and Development,” to be held Monday, February 8, at 8 p.m. ET. Panelists will address the disproportionate number of minority psychiatrists, their experiences in different practice settings, and why having diversity in the psychiatric workforce psychiatry is important for everyone.



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