Schizophrenia and the Black Community

Inspired by Black History Month, I wanted to introduce a post category that dives into issues that reflect concerns within the Black Community. To understand the hesitance and aversions of the community to mental health, you must understand the history of experiences shared within the community.

Protest Psychosis

During the Civil Rights Era, Paranoid Schizophrenia was diagnosed to “angry black men” suffering from “delusional anti-whiteness”, leading to a high number of Black males being committed to mental institutions.

It has been reported by Clinical & Forensic Psychologist Karen Franklin, Ph.D (2010) that Black males are disproportionately diagnosed with Schizophrenia, in comparison to other genders and races/ethnicities, in both the US and UK. This has been the case since the DSM-II was published in 1968, which amended the outlook of Schizophrenia from a diagnosis resulting in pity and compassion, to a diagnosis resulting in fear and a necessity for containment. Describing Schizophrenia as “masculinized hostility, violence, and aggression”, the previous populations diagnosed as schizophrenic (disproportionately white women) were relabeled depressive, and they were allowed to leave the mental institutions housing them due to the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 (CMHCA).

The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that the CMHCA was signed by President Kennedy on 10/31/1963 to help people “warehoused” in various institutions and hospitals transition back into their home communities, and receive community-based behavioral healthcare. The CMHCA is still alive today, allowing for the services many consumers currently receive. Continuing on to Franklin (2010), as White Women were declassified as having Schizophrenia, Black Men were increasing in classification, with the only notable change being the changes in how the diagnosis was defined. This was shown in reviewing the permanent products of physically written patient records, which clearly showed previous diagnoses crossed out and new diagnoses written next to the them.

Bell (2011) characterized this diagnosis transition as Schizophrenia going from assumptions of “white and harmless” to “proof that African-American men with schizophrenia were violent”. Journal/reasearch articles throughout the 1960’s and 70’s began using language directed at the Black Male populations as being delusional and violent, due to Protest Psychosis. Furthermore, reviews of mainstream journalism show an increase in the frequency of pairing terms “Negro” and “Schizophrenia” from 1959 to 1979, with emphasis on applying the term Schizophrenia to Black males involved with the Civil Rights Movement. This all led to a diagnosis disparity of Black males being diagnosed at 4-times the the likelihood in comparison to White males and females. Bell states that psychiatry itself became an authority that was allowed to label Black males protesting during the Civil Rights Movement as maladaptively angry, resulting in a societal necessity to control them through social institutions, which led to domination, oppression, and exploitation.

Protest Psychosis, in conjunction with the Black Power Movement, were reported to be “literally causing delusions, hallucinations, and violent projections among black men”.

Bell (2011)

When researching source articles outlining Protest Psychosis, Bromberg & Simon (1968) states that it is a reactive psychosis, closely related to external stresses strong enough to cause a rupture of the ego, resulting in breaking with reality. This is exampled by both national and international political events, such as the Bolshevik persecution of the 1920’s (persecution of Christians within the Soviet Union). They described “Black Power” as a form of “delusional anti-whiteness”. They expounded on this ideology again (Bromberg, Simon, & Pasto 1972), describing Protest Psychosis as “a psychotic illness with strong elements of racial hostility and black nationalism [that entails] the release of previously repressed anti-white feelings, which combine with African ideology and beliefs.”

Thinking Point

Bromberg and Simon explicitly began telling the world that as far as psychological science is concerned, fighting against ideologies of White Supremacy and White Superiority, while implementing ideologies of Black Pride were grounds for hospitalization and institutionalization. And while many people may argue that the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were “a long time ago”, many people just now reaching retirement age were adults during this time period. If you were born in 1972, when the 2nd Bromberg & Simon article cited was published, you would be turning 49 this year, with a minimum of 16-years until reaching retirement age. We think of these ideologies as being from our far history, but they are within the lifetimes of millions of people, and have affected millions more within the age groups that followed. For many families and individuals directly and indirectly affected by all of this, it only increased the fears and anxiety that the Black Community as a whole feels regarding mental health.


Bell, C. C. (2011). The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Psychiatric Services62(8), 979–980.

Bromberg W, Simon F. The “Protest” Psychosis: A Special Type of Reactive Psychosis. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1968;19(2):155–160. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1968.01740080027005

Bromberg, W., Simon, F., & Pasto, T. A. (January 01, 1972). Symbolism in a “protest psychosis”. The Israel Annals of Psychiatry and Related Disciplines, 10, 2, 164-79.

Community Mental Health Act. National Council for Behavioral Health.

Franklin, K. (2010, November 21). ‌How the Black Man Became Schizophrenic. Psychology Today.

Smith, K. (2019, July 29). Perspective | How bigotry created a black mental health crisis. The Washington Post.

(Excuse the improper formatting, I couldn’t get the alignment to show correctly.)


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