UNC-Chapel Hill SPCL 400 - The Role of Race in the History of Mental Illness

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Jeanette SakoAbby WootenSPCL 400April 20, 2022The Role of Race in the History of Mental IllnessPrior to this course, I knew very little about mental health let alone that history of it. I believed it would be beneficial and relevant to take the course given the growth of psychology that we see in recent times. I learned so much and I’m thankful for it because much of it hit closeto home. Hearing stories about North Carolinians, women, and African Americans were particularly moving. Many of my classes this semester have discussed inequalities in black communities in the history of the United States and SPCL was not an exception.One of the most moving readings for me was the Eli Hill Case study and it was moving for many reasons. The trauma of African Americans can often be multifaceted due to intersectionality and that was the case for Eli Hill. In the case study, it was pretty eye opening to see an apology from the American Psychiatric Association to black, indigenous, and people of color for the structural racism that has taken place (Allen 2022). Ownership is a big deal because it takes away room for debate. Eli Hill was a formerly enslaved man who joined United States Colored Troops and it is because of his involvement in the military that we are able to get a better account about his story and his time Dorthea Dix. Ironically, his time in the military played a large role in mental health struggles. Ironically, many white people during the time dehumanized African Americans by belittling their mental health experiences. A superintendent at Dix argued that insanity is “theprice that civilized white Europeans paid for modernity”(Allen 2022).. This reminds me of how black people have been known to be undertreated for pain because of the misconception that theyhandle it better/feel it less.The Unspeakable reading goes into detail about more inequalities the African Americans faced. Due to self taught methods and lack of resources within the North Carolina School for the Colored Blind and Deaf, Junius Wilson spent his life being unable to communicate with most people. Not only did he face this communication barrier but he faced social and racial prejudice due to being a disabled black man. He suffered many hardships and strutinany without the chance to defend himself. During the Jim Crow era that Wilson was living in it was not hard for black people to be seen as savage or barbaric and his disability only made matters worse. He wasmisdiagnosed as insane.The story of Eli Hill and Junius Wilson are similar because they help shed light on complex struggles that black people used to go through. Specifically at a time where black people may have had a chance to be seen but were not actually heard. Their experiences were often a result of prejudice and mistreatment at the hands of those who weren’t trying hard enough to understand them. This is a motif in the history of psychiatry as marginalized groups were often misunderstood and not treated and viewed the way they truly deserved. Black people deserved to be at Dix the same as white people whether they were in the military or not. Wilson didn’t deserve to be treated like a savage, insane, and violent individual.Dr. Wynne Morris from UNC Psychiatry was one of my favorite speakers. Although I remember Abby asking how many lessons they had on history either in undergraduate or her residency and I believe she said one. Which is pretty shocking. Learning about history seems crucial so we can better understand what mistakes not to make again. Only 2 percent of Psychiatrics in the U.S are black and 4 percent of psychologists. Given African Americans make up over 13 percent of the country, there should be more diversity in the field to not only help create diversity of thinking but help other minority patients feel most at ease. I’m happy for the progress that has been made in the field today for all marginalized groups References:Allen, Bobby. “Race in the Asylum: The Case of Eli Hill.” Community Histories Workshop, 4 Mar. 2022, https://communityhistories.org/2022/eli-hill-2/. Burch, Susan, and Hannah Joyner. Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Univ. of North Carolina Press,

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UNC-Chapel Hill SPCL 400 - The Role of Race in the History of Mental Illness

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