Three Myths About Black Mental Health That Affect Us Today

Black mental hospital patient in straight jacket
Leslie Grover-Taylor
April 20, 2022

White people have always been obsessed with us – from splitting our brains in half to shocking us with electric currents, they were determined to understand exactly why we thought we were anything other than inferior to them. 

In fact, the following beliefs still shape the mental health care system today. Some of them were straight-up ridiculous!

#1: Dysaesthesia Aethiopia

White people were convinced that we should HAPPILY serve them. In 1851, a white doctor decided that any enslaved Black person who didn’t happily work themselves to death was suffering from “dysaesthesia aethiopia,” otherwise known as extreme laziness.

#2: Drapetomania

According to white doctors, we enjoyed being enslaved. So any attempts to escape were a sign of extreme mental disease. There was even a name for the “disease” of desiring freedom: “drapetomania.”

#3: Blackness As Disorder

In the 1700s, Dr. Benjamin Rush, the “father of modern psychiatry,” believed that Blackness itself was a disease that could be cured. The American Psychiatric Association used an image of Rush as part of its logo until 2015.

We cannot allow the racism inherent in the mental health field to keep making us sick. We must continue to advocate for ourselves, enter the mental health field ourselves, and create our own safe spaces. Healing ourselves is our task – a white system can’t be trusted to!

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