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The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease [Hardcover]

Jonathan Metzl
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 2010 0807085928 978-0807085929 1
A powerful account of how cultural anxieties about race shaped American notions of mental illness

The civil rights era is largely remembered as a time of sit-ins, boycotts, and riots. But a very different civil rights history evolved at the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan. In The Protest Psychosis, psychiatrist and cultural critic Jonathan Metzl tells the shocking story of how schizophrenia became the diagnostic term overwhelmingly applied to African American protesters at Ionia—for political reasons as well as clinical ones. Expertly sifting through a vast array of cultural documents, Metzl shows how associations between schizophrenia and blackness emerged during the tumultuous decades of the 1960s and 1970s—and he provides a cautionary tale of how anxieties about race continue to impact doctor-patient interactions in our seemingly postracial America.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Metzl, a psychiatrist and Univ. of Michigan professor, uses the largely unknown story of Michigan's Ionia Mental Hospital to track the evolving definition of schizophrenia from the 1920s to the '70s, from an illness of "pastoral, feminine neurosis into one of urban, male psychosis" correlated with aggression. Metzl puts the imperfect science of diagnosis in historical context with admirable lucidity, moving into the present to examine how a tangle of medical errors and systemic racism that labels "threats to authority as mental illness" influences the diagnosis of black men with schizophrenia. He offers a laudably complex look at a complex and still poorly understood condition, expanding his discussion to include the impact of deinstitutionalization and the revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) in the 1960s. The result is a sophisticated analysis of the mechanisms of racism in the mental health system and, by extension, the criminal justice system.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the 1960s, the psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia morphed from a malady suffered by sensitive white intellectuals to one of disaffected, angry black men. Psychiatric professor Metzl explores changes in the profession from the 1920s to today but focuses particularly on the 1960s, which saw violent protests against racial discrimination. Metzl details the social, political, and cultural influences behind debates within the profession about what constituted mental illness. Drawing on case studies from Michigan’s now-defunct Asylum for Insane Criminals in Ionia, 130 miles from racially volatile Detroit, Metzl illustrates how schizophrenia became a racialized disease. He analyzes black cultural allusions to double consciousness, from W. E. B. DuBois to modern-day rappers who have adapted notions of schizophrenia in response to American racism or as a social diagnosis of white America itself. Metzl also examines shortcomings in American society and the psychiatric profession in particular, which resisted the notion that violent responses to racism might have been rational. An enlightening look at how those in power define aberrant behavior and evade self-analysis. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (January 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807085928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085929
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan M. Metzl is associate professor of psychiatry and women's studies and director of the Culture, Health, and Medicine Program at the University of Michigan. A 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, Metzl has written extensively for medical, psychiatry, and popular publications. His books include Prozac on the Couch and Difference and Identity in Medicine. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the Black man became schizophrenic November 21, 2010
As you probably know, African American men are disproportionately diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what you may not know is when this pattern emerged, or why. The Protest Psychosis tells that story.

Up until the 1950s, the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed with schizophrenia were white. They were the delicate or eccentric -- poets, academics, middle-class women like Alice Wilson in The Protest Psychosis, "driven to insanity by the dual pressures of housework and motherhood."

Then, in the mid-1960s, the Long Hot Summers hit urban America. Smoldering anger over racism and poverty erupted into rioting, fires, and harsh repression. In Detroit, a police raid on a party triggered an uprising that left 43 dead, 1,189 injured, and more than 7,000 arrested. Convinced that they would never win civil rights through sit-down strikes, a nascent Black Power movement became increasingly militant.

Coincidentally, just as this urban unrest was reaching its zenith, the American Psychiatric Association was busy revising its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Published in 1968, the DSM-II was touted as a more objective and scientific document than its 1952 predecessor.

"However, the DSM-II was far from the objective, universal text that its authors envisioned," writes Metzl. "In unintentional and unexpected ways, the manual's diagnostic criteria -- and the criteria for schizophrenia most centrally -- reflected the social tensions of 1960s America. A diagnostic text meant to shift focus away from the specifics of culture instead became inexorably intertwined with the cultural politics, and above all the race politics, of a particular nation and a particular moment in time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, yet underdeveloped April 22, 2013
Metzl makes broad and revolutionary claims in this book relating schizophrenia and blackness. He explains how schizophrenia evolved into a disease that doctors diagnosed only black people with. Although his argument makes sense, and is supported by evidence and narratives from a former hospital for the criminally insane, I was left with a few major questions. First, Metzl claims that schizophrenia evolved into a black disease yet only provides evidence from one narrative of a black male and includes a narrative about a white female. He draws these large conclusions about black people, yet doesn't include black women in the conversation. Furthermore, it is difficult for me to accept an argument as valid when Metzl only draws evidence from one hospital when there were hospitals for the "insane" all over the country. It is an interesting read and very thought provoking, but leaves a lot of holes to be filled by other historians.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exciting foundation for the future April 16, 2013
By Reader
This book is not a 5-star book, but that does not mean that it is bad. Far from it. This book is one of the first to tackle the incredibly complex intersection of mental illness and race. The history provided by this book is so important to psychologists, medical health professionals, and scientists everywhere to understand. Medical professionals, in particular, are very proud of their "objective" and "unbiased" diagnoses, but this book shows how wrong that can be. By showing the evolution of the DSM, views on mental illness, and doctor-patient interactions, Jonathan M. Metzl heeds the warning to all that we cannot put blind faith in any institution, and that we must continue to analyze, criticize, and improve all organizations, from government to medicine. The only reason I gave 4 stars and not 5 was that, as an academic study, only analyzing one institution and focusing on a few patients (as Metzl did with Ionia and Alice, Ocavius, Caeser, and Rasheed) is not a good move. It will be interesting to see future research expand on this foundation to bring to light the history of mental health in the black community.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is making the diagnosis? December 10, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book provides very revealing evidence about how societal issues influence mental health diagnoses. It shows how subjective the DSM diagnoses can be-- and how they reflect the fears and perceptions of society. The "old" diagnoses of schizophrenia had more to do with its negative symptoms, like depression and social withdrawal-- whereas the newer diagnosis emphasizes violent and aggressive tendencies. The African American male-- during the civil rights struggle-- was viewed as an embodiment of those tendencies.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative April 16, 2013
This book is definitely a great addition to the study of mental health, particularly mental health within the African American community. However, there were some parts of the book in which I felt that I was wanting more information from him. I don't expect one author to tell me everything there is to know about a particular subject, but I feel as though I was left with a few unanswered questions.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mild Disappointment April 11, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While this book brings up the important topic of institutions in America's history especially in the black community I found it fell short. Metzel does not seem able to fully develop many of the ideas he is trying to get across in the book leaving more questions than answers. However, I did think that it brought up a lot of important issues that were present in mental institutions in the past. However, he focuses on only one institution which I often felt was not necessarily a encompassing example of how all mental institutions seemed at the time. I think he started something for other authors to write on and set himself up for potentially future books yet did not feel that this book provided the amount of information where I remained interested the entire time and was often confused by his writing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Psychiatric professor plays historian
It's hard to recommend this book. From the beginning Metzl makes no bones about his controversial thesis. Read more
Published 8 months ago by MaxMillin
2.0 out of 5 stars Loony Thesis
I made a video on black violence that specifically addresses some of the ideas in this book.

[... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Patrick L. Boyle
2.0 out of 5 stars Falling Short
I am a junior in college and read The Protest Psychosis for a class called Medicine, Healing, and Experimentation. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Kelsey T.
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed with Metzl
Although Metzl claims to critique how psychology as a field has unfairly diagnosed disproportionate numbers of Blacks with schizophrenia, he does not achieve his goal. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Emma Puls
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Expertly documents how the pharmaceutical/ mental health-industrial complex criminalizes behavior. Good for those looking to see how mental health diagnoses serves to enforce a... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Edward Rosario
3.0 out of 5 stars Cover provocative!
I have not read this book and was forced to give it a star rating to comment on it. The reviews suggest this book has a reasonable theme. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Robert C.
4.0 out of 5 stars clinical behavior studied for what anyone knew about schizophrenia
I tend to think of people freaking out as a cultural response to the lack of wealth and status that will become more common as Americans run out of money and lose their homes. Read more
Published on October 18, 2010 by Bruce P. Barten
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