Letter to the Royal College of Psychiatrists on Institutional Racism

By Sami Tamimi, MD

Letter to the Royal College of Psychiatrists

As Dr. Timimi, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor at the University of Lincoln said:

“Psychiatry has gone backwards in recent decades. There used to be more awareness of race, culture, and power, engagement with the humanities, and projects to improve understanding and therapeutic practice across cultures and communities. Now we use pseudoscientific constructs infected with cultural bias that is blind to the effects of discrimination and paints non-indigenous ways of comprehending and dealing with distress as backward and dangerous. There is no doubt that modern mental health services often does more harm than good. This must change.”

Leading psychiatrists demand their professional body urgently stamp out systemic racism

1st July – In an open letter, over 100 psychiatrists in the UK including are calling on the new president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to overhaul its response to systemic racism and discrimination across the sector.

It condemns the profession’s history of not only ignoring the effects of discrimination on its patients, but of painting other cultures as “psychologically primitive” and the damaging effects of “casting their approaches to understanding distress as backward superstitions.”[1]

The powerful letter reveals the alarming history of psychiatry, which has “labelled civil rights protestors and political dissidents as psychotic”. It also highlights the tragic inequality that persists to this day, as the profession “continues to disproportionately incarcerate black people and coerce them into treatment.”  It reveals that patients who are black are more likely to die under restraint whilst receiving mental health care than those who are white.[2] 

Yet it is psychiatrists on the front line who have witnessed the devastating consequences of racism and discrimination on the lives of those “viewed as ‘other’ and de-humanised” that are now pressing for far-reaching action.

The signatories are calling on the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) to urgently right this wrong and set up an independent commission to examine all training curricula and practice guidelines that the College produces. It is also asking that the task force includes diverse service users and recognised experts in institutional racism and colonialism.

The letter concludes strongly: “We hope you will see this as we do – a once in a generation opportunity to put psychiatry at the forefront in tackling systemic racism and the malignant legacies of colonialism in medicine and society at large.”

They hope the letter will be published extensively on the first day of the new Presidency of the RCPsych, to maintain pressure on the professional body at this critical time.