It’s time for psychiatry to take the high road in addressing racism, especially as the psychological toll becomes more evident.
In the wake of the Atlanta shooting, and the anti-Asian sentiments expressed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, both the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have released statements expressing their solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.
“This year has seen a significant increase in racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans, and it is unacceptable and harmful,” APA President Jeffrey Geller, MD, MPH, said. “This unspeakable tragedy can cause further fear for the AAPI community, which has endured so much already. We send our condolences to the victims’ families and friends, and others who knew them. We stand in solidarity with our members in condemning it.”
Susan R. Bailey, MD, AMA President, expressed similar sentiments: “Data released this week by Stop AAPI Hate shows nearly 3,800 firsthand reports of violence, many of those against Asian-American women, discrimination and harassment against Asian Americans since March of last year, including more than 500 incidents in just the first two months of 2021. This number is likely an underestimate. Racism and xenophobia—in action and in language—must not be tolerated.”
In early 2020, the AMA released a statement warning of the racism and xenophobia being exacerbated by COVID-19. This statement called on public officials, the media, and health care workers to condemn the usage of xenophobic language.
AMA President at the time, Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, culminated these thoughts with the following: “With the world reeling from the health and economic crisis of COVID-19, anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric exacerbates the pandemic, threatening people’s wellbeing and driving us further apart. The AMA strongly condemns xenophobic and race-based scapegoating against Asians and Pacific Islanders in America and against Asian-presenting people. Racism and xenophobia lead to negative health consequences for segments of our population and this shouldn’t be tolerated.”
H. Steven Moffic, MD, the Psychiatric TimesTM Psychiatry & Society specialist, believes it will take more than words to combat this anti-Asian racism.
“Seems to me that what is needed is a much more focused, concerted, and ongoing effort, either in the form of a Think Tank or Task Force composed of a variety of cultural psychiatry experts to address this challenge internally, just as the field has been doing with Black American racism,” Moffic said in a recent article, The Need for an Ongoing Effort: Reacting to Anti-Asian Violence. “More than that even, a broad overall focus on addressing all kinds of scapegoating and discrimination in America and psychiatry is necessary for issues like sexism, ageism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia, and more. Since we have a built-in tendency to fear the “other,” a countering effort has to include childrearing and school education for the public, and intensive continuing education for psychiatrists.”
Psychiatric TimesTM Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Frank Clark, MD, shared his own thoughts on this deplorable wave of anti-Asian violence. “The events that took place in Atlanta are reprehensible. Furthermore, they continue to illuminate the importance of galvanizing a movement to help dismantle racism and xenophobia. We cannot afford to be complicit especially in a time where the physical and psychological well-being of our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) brothers and sisters continue to be negatively impacted. My prayer is that humanity would prevail and be assiduous in its pursuit toward love, justice, and peace.”