Over 150 members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists have written a letter to the incoming president of that body, Adrian James, urging him to address “institutional racism and colonial mentality” within the psychiatric establishment.
The letter, signed by 166 members of the College, calls on the Royal College of Psychiatrists to set up an independent commission to examine racist biases in the training curricula and practice guidelines set forth by the College.
The letter comes amid US protests against police violence after the murder by police of George Floyd, a Black American. A number of large protests occurred in solidarity in the UK.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional medical body for psychiatrists in the UK, certifying them to practice there. It creates and provides training curricula to psychiatrists and students, as well as publishing books, research articles, and guidelines regarding mental health concerns intended for professionals and the layperson.
The signees of the letter acknowledge James’ commitment to appointing two “presidential leads for race equality,” but suggests that an independent commission could more clearly “root out” the problems of racism, colonialism, and bias that lie at the heart of psychiatry.
The letter reminds James of psychiatry’s historical role as enforcers of social order, particularly in authoritarian regimes. “Historically, psychiatry has colluded with eugenic mass murder in Nazi Germany and labeled civil rights protesters and political dissidents as psychotic,” the letter reads.
However, the writers make clear that this is not merely a historical situation—it is an ongoing problem.
“To this day we continue to disproportionately incarcerate black people and coerce them into treatment. Moreover, if you are black you are more likely to die under restraint whilst receiving mental health care than if you are white.”
The letter also addresses the colonial mindset of the psychiatric establishment, referring to countless studies that have framed cultures as “primitive” and dismissed indigenous approaches to understanding emotional distress as “superstitions.”
The letter calls for including service users and experts on institutional racism and colonialism in the independent commission. It reads: