Dr. Tamara Brown from the University of Kentucky was at NKU late last month to talk about the connections between race and mental health issues and treatment.
Her presentation, “Separate and Unequal: Psychology’s Treatment of Race,” which was sponsored by The Psi Chi Psychology Club focused on the history of psychology and race.
According to Dr. Brown, an assistant professor of Psychology, the historical treatment of race and psychology has created a false belief that the “anatomical, neurological and endocrinology aspects of blacks are always inferior to those of whites.”
Medical journals, she said, have perpetuated myths that, for example, the brains of blacks are smaller and less developed compared to the white brain, African Americans are less intelligent than whites on any measure of IQ because of a smaller brain, and that the dreams of blacks are juvenile in character and not as complex as whites.
These misconceptions have encouraged an idea that blacks are less prone to mental illness because their minds are “simple.”
Because of these and other factors, African Americans are less likely to acknowledge and seek professional treatment for mental health problems.
Further exacerbating the absence of African Americans from mental health treatment is a lack of cultural competence by many white care providers serving black clients and that counseling facilities are generally not located in black communities.
Additionally, many blacks have a general distrust of medical and social services from hearing and learning about such medical abuses as the Tuskegee Experiment where, during the forty year period, the U.S. Public Health Service infected 400 unsuspecting black men with syphilis, never telling them what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness.
The key to overcoming the obstacles facing the mental health of African Americans is to change the way research is conducted, said Brown.
She said experts must move from an “Etic” form of research which promotes using preconceived concepts to categorize people, to an “Emic” approach which stimulates the psychological world to create new and fitting categories based on the structure of their subjects.
Many attendees considered the information relevant to understanding the mental health issues of the black community.
“The presentation was great,” said Crystal Phoenix, a freshman psychology major. “However, I [feel] that a lot of African American students could have benefited from this lecture,” she said, noting the minimal turnout of African American students at the lecture.