Is bigotry a mental illness?

The Psychiatric Times has an interesting article discussing whether bigotry should be classified as a mental illness. The author concludes no, but the discussion gives an important insight into how we decide what is a mental illness and what is not.

Most people might think that an opinion, no matter how disagreeable, shouldn’t get someone diagnosed with a mental disorder.

The difficulty comes when deciding what criteria you should use to decide that someone’s mental state has gone beyond what is normal and should be considered an illness.

Generally, if a mental state is considered to cause distress or impairment, it’s considered to be a sign of mental illness.

This goes for physical illness as well. A physical difference is only considered an illness if it causes problems as a result.

However, someone who is extremely racist might genuinely suffer problems as a result of their opinions.

As we reported previously, a small group of psychiatrists are pushing for a diagnosis of ‘racist disorder’ to be included in the next revision of the diagnostic manual on this basis.

One argument to be wary of in the justification of this, or any other mental disorder, is that ‘it must exist because biological differences can be found between people thought to have the condition and those without’.

As the mind and behaviour is just a reflection of brain function, any difference, no matter how trivial (ice cream preference for example), will have a related biological difference.

As with physical illness, biological differences in themselves can’t define an illness, because they have to be linked to what is considered serious distress or impairment in everyday life.

Biology might tell us why the difference occurs, but it can’t tell us whether the difference should be considered good or bad.

This decision is essentially a value judgement, because what is considered serious, distressing, impairing or relevant to everyday life aren’t cut-and-dry decisions and are made on the basis of a consensus of opinions.

In some cases, such as cancer, it’s easy, because everyone agrees that an early painful death is bad.

In other cases, particularly for mental illnesses, the issues can be a lot less straightforward because there there are few obvious and direct effects of mental states.

These issues ask us to question what we consider an illness and highlight that the decision is as based as much on social considerations and context, as on the science of biology.

The Psychiatric Times article tackles exactly these sorts of issues in its discussion of bigotry, and is a great guide to the philosophical issues involved in classifying mental disorder.

If you want to explore further, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a great entry on mental illness that tackles many of the conceptual difficulties.

Link to Psychiatric Times article ‘Is bigotry a mental illness?’
Link to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on mental illness.

2 thoughts on “Is bigotry a mental illness?”

  1. It will take maybe another 50 years before society is ready to have this dicussion! Why? Grandma and grandpa are still alive. The image of ” America” is still being held captive by some as ” Ours”. I do believe that America is in a state of transition. America wll one day be a story of many stories and not the forced view of one group. Many white people believe that the tradition of their ancestors were the ” Good old days”. Real history will one day respect many interpretations that will afford their ” good old Days ” as a time when socialpaths and bigotry contaminated the true foundation of this republic. The love for a productive America should be our objective. May God bless us all to do and be our best without harming others. America will one day live up to its potential through the good intention of many regardless of their culture. I look forward to reading about real american history minus the fluff. We only move forward by knowing and learning from the truth. Bigotry is a mental illness. Anything that prevents a person from adaptation to a natural environment goes against. “Natural selection “. History is proof. God has put the human race here on earth to learn from each other. We should learn how to live in harmony. We were made from his image physically. Now we have to work on the being of his image mentally. May the lords will be done

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