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Schizophrenia in African American Culture


Schizophrenia is a severely chronic brain disorder that causes hallucinations,

delusions, and paranoia. Schizophrenia is one of the most chronic and disabling of all
mental illnesses in the world. Often this debilitating disease causes a distortion in the way
a person thinks, perceives reality, and abnormal behavior. It is a contrary belief that
possessing a split personality is a symptom of schizophrenia. It is a psychosis that causes
a person not to know the difference between what is reality and what is imaginary.
Schizophrenia is recognized in early adulthood triggered by environmental stressors and
negative emotions as well as severe depression, substance abuse, and socioeconomic
status. It has a poor prognosis rate and an unknown origin. Social and cultural aspects of
this disease are a factor for determining the diagnosis and treatment with gaining
appreciation. Recent clinical reports have revealed that African Americans are at as much
as a tenfold increased risk over other ethnic minorities. African Americans are one of the
most understudied and under served in the mental health area whereas more likely to be
diagnosed with schizophrenia because of their culture and socioeconomic status than
other ethnicities.
In the African American community the environmental factors are reportedly
occurring through socioeconomic status (SES). These environmental factors range from
a reduced quality of life, drug addiction, low income, and childhood trauma. Genetics
with historical traits of schizophrenia coupled with traumatic environmental factors, such
as reduced quality of life or low income may lead to psychotic symptoms for African
Americans. A study found that some aspects of functioning brain structure in African
American families were both heritable and associated with schizophrenia [1]. The

African American population is vulnerable to this disease through the combination of
these environmental factors and heritable genetics. Diagnosis on a cross-cultural
background is becoming more of a recognized problem in the mental health community.
As described in a paper written by N.L. Meyers, from the Center for the Study of
Complementary and Alternative Therapies, University of Virginia; Disproportionate
rates of schizophrenia diagnoses in ethnic minority populations, some claim, may be
explained by cultural norms that promote the erroneous reporting or diagnosis of
psychotic experiences in ethnic minority groups (Schizophrenia Across Cultures, 2011,
p. 5). Currently in the mental health community the cause of schizophrenia is through the
genetics of ones ancestry. There is no testing in place that can make a definitive
diagnosis of schizophrenia. The mental health professionals usually examine the
patients mental state by conducting an interview of questions and observation of the
patients behavior. Mental health professionals interview patients who have been brought
to them by family members or friends who suspect the mental illness. Environmental
factors are believed to trigger the illness, usually in the early adulthood age.
In the United States, the non-representation of African Americans in medical
research has been attributed to a variety of reasons, including cultural barriers, limited
knowledge of clinical trials, societal distrust of medical researchers, and poor access to
primary medical care [2]. The African American culture historically has been at odds
with the United States Health Care System. Concerning clinical trials the United States
has committed atrocity to the people of African American culture in a study that began in
1932. This popular case in point is the effects of the Tuskegee syphilis study. An online
article from the National Public Radio website dated July 2, 2002 reported about the

Tuskegee experiments that the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee
Institute recruited nearly 400 African American men with syphilis, to participate in a
study. They were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. According
to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for "bad
blood," a local term used to describe several illnesses, including syphilis, anemia and
fatigue (NPR, 2002, P. 4). Many men died during the study without treatment to study
the effects the disease had on the bodys organs. This study was later proven to be
unethical and was profoundly and morally wrong. African Americans are also a culture
of extreme religious convictions. Medical professionals need to do their best to keep an
open mind to the many culture differences that they are presented with. Paranoia has been
referred to as a criteria symptom for schizophrenia. Many cultures have a reluctance to
disclose inner beliefs to strangers of a different ethnic background. African Americans
often delay or do not seek mental health treatment until symptoms are severe. This
makes diagnosis difficult and in turn creates an environment for over diagnosis of
schizophrenia in African American cultures. This type of over diagnosis plays a major
role on how the African American culture is influenced about its beliefs and values of
treating this disease.
African Americans are seen as the highest percentage of diagnosed cases of
schizophrenia, although this may be largely caused by over diagnosis by way of not fully
understanding the culture. There are many African Americans with schizophrenia today.
It is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured but usually can be controlled with proper
diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, there is little funding for research in the mental
health community. The mainstay of treatment for this disease in most cases is the use of

anti-psychosis medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also used for patients
as well as family members who will be interacting with the patient. This type of therapy
involves interactions with the persons strengths and vulnerabilities and reality testing for
hallucinations and delusions. African Americans who have been involved in many case
studies are of a poor socio-economical status. This gives the African Americans in the
study many of the precursors of negative emotions. The negative emotions are noted as
stressors for schizophrenia because of environmental situations and not necessarily
ethnicity. Much improvement has been made in the medical field about culture and how
professionally to handle the diversity of the nation today. It is not nearly close to a
solution to the many challenges the mental health industry has to conquer with diagnosis
and treatment of schizophrenia in the African American population, but it is making


Hamilton, L. A., Aliyu, M. H., & Lyons, P. D., May, R., Swanson C. L., Savage R., Go
R.C.P., (2006, January). African American Attitudes To Schizophrenia. Journal of
the National Medical Association, 98(1), 5.
Retrieved from

Calkins, ME, Tepper, P, Gur, R, et al: Project Among African-Americans to Explore Risks
for Schizophrenia (PAARTNERS): evidence for impairment and heritability of
neurocognitive functioning in families of schizophrenia patients. Am J Psychiatry
2010; 167: 45972. (Calkins, 2010) (Calkins, 2010) (Calkins, 2010)

Remembering Tuskegee. (2002, July). National Public Radio,(), 1.

Retrieved from

Lawson, W. (2011, January). Schizophrenia in African Americans. Armenian Medical

Network, (), . Retrieved from