Commentary

George Floyd, race, and psychiatry: How to talk to patients


 

Dr. Newsome: This also spurs some folks to activism. Some have been participating in protests. There will be White Coats for Black Lives protests, among other things. So it’s spurred folks to action, and it’s also spurred folks to try to be part of a community. Of course, with the whole COVID crisis, we can’t necessarily come together, so we’ve been doing Zoom gatherings more than anything else. But it has encouraged folks to want to do that more, too, because they want to check in on their brother or their sister to make sure they are doing well, and also to be able to express what’s going on with them in a community where they know they can get validation.

The mission of White Coats for Black Lives is to "dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of black and Indigenous people, and other people of color." Courtesy George Washington University Hospital Internal Medicine, Instagram @gtwon_medres

The mission of White Coats for Black Lives is to "dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of black and Indigenous people, and other people of color."

Dr. Norris: I’m going to push you a bit because I detect in your tone something similar to what I’m feeling. I just got the email, the White Coats For Black Lives email. But I think your feeling is similar to mine – I’ve done this before. I’ve done White Coats for Black Lives. You all may have protested. But this display in Washington, D.C., of the use of military and law enforcement to clear a public square of peaceful protesters is above and beyond the pale of anything I’ve ever seen in my life. We have to label that for the danger it is, for the threat to everything this country and the people that bled for this country stand for.

So while I’m going to participate in White Coats for Black Lives and many other things, I am looking for what is actually going to move the needle. I think the protests are great, but at this point in time I want institutions, I want money, I want lawyers, I want a systematic approach.

Dr. Newsome: I most certainly agree. Of course, the protests are really important, but depending on where you are, you have a different lens. As physicians, especially as black physicians, since there are so few of us, we have a unique opportunity to leverage that, whether that means communicating through op-eds or calling your senators and talking with them to try to move things forward.

Physicians are mobilizing. In the last few days, a physician created a Zoom event and hundreds of physicians joined to try to figure out how we can structurally fix this problem. So I most certainly believe that in this effort to address racism, we physicians will need to lend our voices and our privilege to move the needle as best we can.

Dr. Norris: Some of our colleagues in Black Psychiatrists of America have put out a press release on racism in which they propose some actions that should be taken immediately. I think this is a useful thing to talk about.

The first action: “Declare racism a public health problem and establish national goals for addressing this as a health equity issue. Give priority to addressing the issues of health care disparities, including the mental health needs of historically marginalized communities across the U.S.”

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