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Surprising Science

Diagnosing a Racist Double Standard

Why are rappers more likely to sing about being “schizophrenic,” while white crooners are more apt to call themselves “depressed”? And why do supposed schizophrenics often get jailed rather than treated? The answer to both questions, according to psychiatrist and author Jonathan Metzl, traces back to the racially charged 1960s, when black dissent became redefined as mental illness—and mental illness as crime.

In his Big Think interview, Metzl traces the complex and shifting history of schizophrenia, a very real illness that has nonetheless become entangled in some very dubious stereotypes. He also speaks more broadly about the social and cultural dimension of mental illness, arguing that psychiatrists must gain a subtler appreciation of this context in order to define diseases more precisely, and treat them more effectively.


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