Author: Sally Satel

Keep Social-Justice Indoctrination Out of the Therapist’s Office

One of the earliest stains on the legacy of psychiatry, my medical specialty, dates to the American 1840 census, when the US government first began systematically collecting information on “idiocy” and “insanity.” According to the results, the purported rates of mental illness among free blacks in northern cities were deemed to exceed those among enslaved blacks in the south by an 11-to-one ratio. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, a notoriously strident defender of slavery, seized upon the results as “proof” that “the African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give this guardianship and protection from mental death.” Five years later, the American Statistical Association published a new analysis of the census data, in which it illuminated what distinguished American psychiatrist Edward Jarvis called the “inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods” of the original. Jarvis’s own review revealed recording errors and deliberate misuse of data. Yet many citizens in pro-slavery states continued to believe that enslaved blacks were less inclined toward insanity because …