Study Reveals Racial Bias in Use of Restraints in Psychiatry

A new study sheds light on how psychiatric restraints disproportionately affect Black and multiracial patients, raising urgent questions about equality and human rights in healthcare.

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As debates over coercion in psychiatric care intensify, a recent study brings to light troubling disparities in the application of physical restraints, revealing that Black and multiracial patients are subjected to these measures more frequently and for longer durations than their White peers.

This study, examining the records of nearly 30,000 patients, clearly shows that Black and multiracial individuals are more likely than their White counterparts to experience restraint. These findings raise significant questions about the biases that permeate medical practices and underscore the urgency of addressing racial inequalities within psychiatric care. As the field grapples with these issues, the call for reforms prioritizing human rights and reducing coercive practices grows louder, demanding attention from policymakers and healthcare providers.

Sonali Singal, a Clinical Psychology researcher at Rutgers University, and her colleagues authored the study published in Psychiatric Services. They suggest that perceptions of aggressiveness and pain tolerance bias may explain why Black and Multiracial patients are restrained longer than their White counterparts.

“Racism is a fundamental cause of health inequalities in the United States. The U.S. legacy of structural racism has contributed to environmental stressors, including racial discrimination and social disadvantage that disproportionately affect Black and Latinx individuals. Historically, racial discrimination in the United States has occurred in various facets of society, including education, employment, marriage, and law. Although these laws and social norms are no longer explicitly written, racial disparities continue to occur implicitly in areas such as employment, housing, and health care.” 

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