This guest post written by journalist Munyaradzi Makoni is the third in a series of posts reporting on the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) International Congress 2016, which I attended in Cape Town in November.
As racism and discrimination grow, global society is “a few words before a world war,” but psychiatrists can help fight the problem, an expert said at the World Psychiatric Association Congress.
“Racism and discrimination cause poor mental health,” Professor Levent Küey, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Bilgi University in Istanbul, Turkey told the congress. In theory, the practice highlights the obstruction of people’s capacity to perform, it speaks to power control, denial of educational opportunities, the limitation of socioeconomic opportunities, and condemns people to poverty he said.
Küey, the author of The Book of Peace 2015, says border walls perpetuate discrimination and racism across the world. “What really has changed after the Berlin Wall came down?” he questioned. Küey noted that research had revealed that by 1989, 16 countries had border walls and by 2015 the figure had risen to 67. “A third of countries are building walls on their borders,” he said, adding that walls encourage fear or feed hate.
According to Küey, the “wall disease” was growing, entrenching discrimination as walls simultaneously banished people outside and imprisoned those inside them. “In the coming years, I’m afraid there will be more suffering as a result of these walls,” he said. Newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump has been emphatic about his plans to build a wall between Mexico and the USA.
Küey said that in the 19th century racism was “authenticated” through scientific studies as “evidence” was produced to show that one race was better than another. Those attitudes persist. In 2014, for example, Nicholas Wade wrote a book which said some racial groups had genes that made them incapable of grasping certain mental skills.
Discriminatory behavior that has seen people split according to race, ethnicity, gender and religion has caused immense suffering to humanity. Worse, Küey maintained, it complicates emotional response. For instance, when self-discrimination is internalised, it is the hardest thing to overcome.
Mental health professionals have the expertise to deal with discrimination problems through anti-stigma studies and public awareness efforts, according to Küey. Education alone may have some effect, but it is limited. Using experience alone may have negative effects. Experience combined with supervision could have the best effect, he suggested.
“Psychiatrists must start challenging racist attitudes in their daily practice,” Küey said, adding that one way of doing that was to increase the competences of experts who understand cultural differences, class and gender.
The previous post in this series covered African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s address at the opening ceremony of the WPA Congress, in which she called for international organisations to place more emphasis on mental health funding and activism.