History of Mental Health in the Black Community
In the antebellum era, blacks “could not get” stress or develop mental health disorders. According to an 1848 hypothesis by a physician and medical director of a lunatic asylum John Galt, people who participated in commerce, voting, holding office, and owned property faced the highest risk of Lunacy. Enslaved individuals who have no civic duty nor profit-making stress are then immune to mental health (Umeh). From this lens, it would then be unexpected for blacks to
develop lunacy and to require mental health assistance. Interestingly Galt’s hypothesis was characteristically backed up by other medical researches of the period. In what is now known as scientific racism, black men were medically diagnosed with a primitive psychological organization that made them perfect for bondage. In 1851, Samuel Cartwright, an American physician, proposed that draptemonia and dysaethesia aethiopica were mental illnesses causing blacks slaves to respectively flee captivity or act lazily and rascally disrespecting their master’s property (Perzichilli). According to Cartwright the best treatment for both ailments was severe whipping (Umeh). Although blacks were running away from or disrespecting their masters, their mental illnesses were not a result of distress but rather complacency to their psychological nature meant for bonding. Since such incompetence was not a source of distress it was to be treated with exposure to further distress. Then blacks were typically immune to distress and lunacy due to their psychological bondage uniqueness. The promulgation of the idea that blacks were psychologically organized for exploitation instigated the idea that blacks are immune to mental illness and was and is the foundation for poor black mental health address.
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