Racism as a Unique Social Determinant of Mental Health: Development of a Didactic Curriculum for Psychiatry Residents

Publication ID Published Volume
10618 August 12, 2017 13

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Introduction: Mental health disparities based on minority racial status are well characterized, including inequities in access, symptom severity, diagnosis, and treatment. For African Americans, racism may affect mental health through factors such as poverty and segregation, which have operated since slavery. While the need to address racism in medical training has been recognized, there are few examples of formal didactic curricula in the psychiatric literature. Antiracism didactics during psychiatry residency provide a unique opportunity to equip physicians to address bias and racism in mental health care. Methods: With advocacy by residents in the Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Psychiatry residency program, the Division of Public and Community Psychiatry developed a curriculum addressing racial inequities in mental health, particularly those experienced by African Americans. Four 50-minute interactive didactic lectures were integrated into the required didactic curriculum (one lecture per postgraduate training class) during the 2015-2016 academic year. Results: Of residents who attended lectures and provided anonymous feedback, 97% agreed that discussing racism in formal didactics was at least “somewhat” positive, and 92% agreed that it should “probably” or “definitely” remain in the curriculum. Qualitative feedback centered on a need for more time to discuss racism as well as a desire to learn more about minority mental health advocacy in general. Discussion: Teaching about racism as part of required training conveys the explicit message that this is core curricular material and critical knowledge for all physicians. These lectures can serve as a springboard for dissemination and provide scaffolding for similar curriculum development in medical residency programs.


Medlock M, Weissman A, Wong SS, et al. Racism as a unique social determinant of mental health: development of a didactic curriculum for psychiatry residents. MedEdPORTAL Publications. 2017;13:10618. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10618

Educational Objectives

By the end of this training module, learners will be able to:

  1. Define racism and its operant levels (e.g., institutional, interpersonal, internal) as they intersect with mental health access and outcomes for African American patients.
  2. Describe five ways racial bias impacts diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in African American patients.
  3. Suggest two strategies for addressing racial bias in mental health care.


  • Race, Racism, Bias, Disparities, Mental Health, Psychiatry, Health Policy, Advocacy


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