Of Eggshells and Thin-skulls: a consideration of racism-related mental illness impacting Black women

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2006 Mar-Apr;29(2):112-36. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2004.03.012. Epub 2006 Feb 17.


Recent research has indicated that the prevalence of mental disorders is estimated to be higher among Blacks than among Whites, most likely due to the nexus of race and socioeconomic disparity. Blacks are under-represented in in-patient populations and more likely than Whites to use the emergency rooms for mental health treatment. Numerous studies confirm that Blacks drop out of mental health services at a significantly higher rate than Whites and use fewer treatment sessions for mental health issues. Furthermore, Blacks enter mental health treatment at a later, more advanced stage than Whites, under-consume community mental health services of all kinds, are misdiagnosed more often than Whites, and are more often diagnosed with a severe mental illness than Whites. People from diverse ethnic backgrounds often are prevented from receiving adequate mental health treatment due to misdiagnoses and lack of access to the services they need. Factors contributing to this disparity include a general mistrust of medical health professionals, cultural barriers, co-occurring disorders, socioeconomic factors, and primary reliance on family and the religious community during times of distress. Unfortunately, the traditional institutions of racialized research largely ignore the disparate social and political exposures confronting people of color, such as residential and occupational segregation, racial profiling, tokenism, discrimination, racism, and the consequential physiological and psychological effects flowing from the macro and micro effects of such interactions and intersectionalities. This article explores these issues and proposes civil law legal frameworks for addressing these disparities. In particular, it is suggested that renewed consideration be made of the Thin-skull and Eggshell doctrines in the United States and comparable traditional international doctrine.

MeSH terms

  • Black People*
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Justice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Socioeconomic Factors