News at Medicine - February 2019 - Psychiatry and race: A research boost to answer some complicated questions

Psychiatry and race: A research boost to answer some complicated questions
February 6, 2019
Vashti Campbell is studying how race plays a part in psychiatric diagnosis. Campbell is one of Memorial’s newest recipients of funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
Campbell is receiving a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship worth $60,000 for their project White-washing normative representations of race and culture in the (sub)texts of psychiatry.
According to Campbell, higher rates of psychiatric diagnosis have been documented for Indigenous communities in settler-colonial societies, as well as racialized communities including African-American, Hispanic and some immigrant populations compared with white counter-parts.

“Having practiced as a social worker and clinical researcher with 15 years’ experience in psychiatric hospitals, I have had many opportunities to work with patients from culturally diverse backgrounds. I have seen the ways that a diagnosis can shape someone’s life; sometimes offering relief that there is hope and treatment, and other times creating a sense of disconnection from community and culture.”
Campbell, a PhD candidate in Community Health and Humanities, became interested in this research after watching a number of young black men arriving as refugees – often from Somolia – being diagnosed with schizophrenia, and seeing older south-Asian women struggling with ‘shadows’ that haunted them. They received the same diagnosis; schizophrenia.

“I felt perhaps we – the team of experts I worked with – were missing something.”

“There was a clear lack of consideration given to context in these people’s live,” Campbell explained. “I was concerned that our privileges – as educated folks, living in a place without day-to-day geo-political conflict affecting us, and often raised in societies where Judeo-Christian values where prevalent, that we might not be well positioned to appreciate the lasting effects of grief and trauma that many of our patients experienced. These reflections and concerns ultimately led me back to academia.”
They hope to better understand how the history of colonialism and its social construction of race and madness might still play out today by examining the language of psychiatric texts to trace the origins of current diagnostic categories.
“As health care providers we may have gaps in our knowledge that contribute to over-diagnosis or misdiagnosis of patients from culturally diverse communities. Some of these gaps are because we learn about psychiatry from texts which grew out of early colonialist notions of race and madness; the text we learn from may be reinforcing racist stereotypes.”
SSHRC is investing a total of $1,314,178 into studies led by early career and emerging researchers at Memorial. On Jan. 30, Kirsty Duncan, minister of Science and Sport, announced more than $141 million to support nearly 3,000 of Canada’s most talented scholars, including Campbell. For more information on this latest announcement, visit: