“Psychiatry’s reckoning with its own racist past is overdue, but what exactly should the path forward look like?” In their new book, Social (In)Justice and Mental Health, co-edited by Dr. Ruth Shim and Lorio Forensics Founder and Principal Consultant Dr. Sarah Vinson tackled this question. And based on a recent review in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychiatric Practice , they knocked it out of the park.
The September 2021 edition of the Journal of Psychiatric Practice features a review of Shim and Vinson’s work. According to the review’s authors, “Social (In)Justice and Mental Health looks beneath the surface of mental health care and offers the most extensive excavation and critique of the pervasive racism throughout mental health that we have read.” Within the pages of this new groundbreaking work, Shim and Vinson, the primary authors of the text, identify the ways in which the mental health field has contributed to racial disparities. Further, they delve into how the field ought to respond to social injustice. Health, ultimately, is more than medicine and if the medical field is to truly promote wellness there must be a broader lens that incorporates issues of race.
Such a critique is well overdue and the medical establishment is beginning to come to terms with this reality. “Early psychiatric practices laid the groundwork for the inequities in clinical treatment that have historically limited quality access to psychiatric care for BIPOC,” according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). This is a daunting admission but it must be followed by substantive actions. Shim and Vinson go far beyond critique and as this latest review of their work points out, one “can’t read Social (In)Justice and Mental Health and not feel
moved to act.” Social (In)Justice and Mental Health is a clear mandate to the medical profession, one that must be given heed to. The Journal of Psychiatric Practice’s review is a clear endorsement that the medical establishment must embrace reform, if the goal is true societal wellness.
Sandra Steingard echoed much the same in her review of Social (In)Justice and Mental Health for the Community Mental Health Journal. This work points not to an empty exercise for academics but something much larger and has tremendous relevance for forensic mental health consultation. It is no coincidence that the populations grossly overrepresented in our criminal justice system mirror those disproportionately impacted by social injustice and mental health inequities. Further, civil legislation undertaken with a lens informed by the social injustice and mental health interplay has the potential to move society toward justice, and in turn, toward better population health. As this text illustrates, cultural and structural humility are critical for a robust understanding of mental health, and the same is most certainly true for forensic mental health consultation.