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Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease:
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e318275cf43
Review Articles

Changing Psychiatric Perception of African-Americans With Affective Disorders

Jarvis, G. Eric MD

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Abstract: This article explored the origins and implications of the underdiagnosis of affective disorders in African-Americans. MEDLINE and old collections were searched using relevant key words. Reference lists from the articles that were gathered from this procedure were reviewed. The historical record indicated that the psychiatric perception of African-Americans with affective disorders changed significantly during the last 200 years. In the antebellum period, the mental disorders of slaves mostly went unnoticed. By the early 20th century, African-Americans were reported to have high rates of manic-depressive disorder compared with whites. By the mid-century, rates of manic-depressive disorder in African-Americans plummeted, whereas depression remained virtually nonexistent. In recent decades, diagnosed depression and bipolar disorder, whether in clinical or research settings, were inexplicably low in African-Americans compared with whites. Given these findings, American psychiatry needs to appraise the deep-seated effects of historical stereotypes on the diagnosis and treatment of African-Americans.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.


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