Globe, Human Rights, Politiks, United Kingdom

The legacy of slavery: (3): Family, social equality and mental health

Family dysfunction was an important feature of slavery in the Caribbean, and it seems very likely that this is one of the ‘downstream’ effects of the past history of people from the Caribbean.


Miedo y nubes pixabay 2Nigel Pocock

Movement for Justice and Reconciliation


Fearon and Morgan make the helpful suggestion that “Studying the potential protective factors (such as strong social and family networks) may provide some clues that may help to clarify why some groups appear to be relatively more protected from psychosis than others.”

This point may indeed prove the key variable in mental health pathologies. It is not at present politically correct to admit that different family styles yield very different health outcomes.

This is an unfortunate blockage to research, as it prevents the formulating of social policies that might address these issues. But then, it is said that politicians ‘grease the wheels when they squeak’, and they can only do this if they are voted into power.

Writing in The Times, Mary Anne Siegart draws attention to a contradiction common to politically-correct relativism and decidophobia: “We heard it again from Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, this week. In a big speech on families, he admitted that ‘marriage represents the pinnacle of a strong relationship’, but then went straight on to say: ‘But that does not mean that all children from married couples fare well, nor that every kind of alternative family structure is irretrievably doomed to fail. Our family policy must be bias-free.’ (…) Later in his speech, Johnson produced this horrifying statistic: “Children of lone parents are 70% more prone to develop psychological illnesses in later life.”

Corrupcion en paraguay pixabay 1Politicians, therefore, must pander to popular demand, and special interest groups representing every conceivable family style are part of the potential market for votes.

If bestiality were demanded in sufficient numbers, all the parties would call for its legal recognition.

It also suggests that one hypothesis of this research should perhaps be: “That there is a positive correlation between strong and stable families and reduction in mental illnesses, within Caribbean groups”.

Is a ‘Me, Me, Me’ attitude correlated to increasing mental illness? We suspect that it is. However, the roots of this relativism and introspection may not be the same, although they may act on each other to increase the degree of health pathology.

While we have heeded the important findings made in south London, very similar findings come from a study of African-Americans. Michaeline Bresnahan and her colleagues also draw similar conclusions as regards possible causal pathways, adding that SES (social and economic status) is an important part of this equation, as well as family structure.

In this US birth cohort, African-American mothers were 3-fold more likely than whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and that SES appears to be partly or wholly responsible for this difference.

Vida y muerte Pixabay 4Since Bresnahan et al measured family SES at birth, it is likely that a longitudinal study might reveal a cumulative effect if measured later in adolescence. Can the agreement of UK studies with US studies be mere coincidence? This seems unlikely.

The common features of both are racism, relative deprivation, and a common past history rooted in slavery. Part of this is family dysfunction, absent fathering, broken attachment of the mother and child, and more.

Protective factors are clearly the reverse of these: the stable, loving family. But stable loving families don’t just happen.

There has to be a social push-pull rooted in a value system that is not simply based on selfishness and ‘Me, Me, Me’, as psychologist Raj Persaud has entitled one of the chapters in his book. It would helpful to see (in addition to SES) if there might be a correlation between a supportive social group, length of attendance, and the values of the group, and improved mental and social health, as well as other variables such as (say) personality type.

The paradox is that people who fear ‘messing up’ may actually be able to read social cues better than those who cannot, who march into a situation in ways that are totally inappropriate and lacking in sensitivity to the situation.

freedoom jail prison hand pixabayIndeed, this suggests that such people are both immature and have a mental health problem with reading appropriate behavior, by definition.

It may therefore be that there is an intrapsychic conflict involving conscience, and, by implication, a strong set of values in which ‘cognitive dissonance’ needs to be resolved.

The Antiguan ‘primitivist’ artist, Frank Walter (1926-2009) was clearly unable to resolve the dissonance between his upper-class, ‘white’ education, and his known slave ancestry. He maintained a ‘coping’ strategy by both a belief system that explained (to himself) how he could be both ‘white’ and yet appear physically ‘black’, and as he grew older, to retreat from all disconfirming evidence by removing himself from people, to the extent that he lived without either water or electricity at the end of his life. His story is a very sad and poignant one.

This suggests that social equality is an important factor in health pathologies. A more Freudian view of mental health pathology sees this as driven by intrapsychic conflict, and this was certainly the case of Frank Walter. He struggled with the conflicts over his identity all his life.

Un cristo SILLA fuero PixabayMental health is arguably not best served by the ‘silent spaces’ of some supposed liberals, but by open recognition of the right of a special interest group to exist, provided it accepts the core values of the wider society, while drawing its main identity from within its own minority community.

‘Silent spaces’ (where no critical thinking is permitted, except what it itself decrees) reduce discussion, albeit painful, but which are a means to a new synthesis and ‘gestalt’ if worked through. Democratisation should not close down discussion (as is the habit of some post modernists) but open it up.  (Next week: Tobe continued)

(Photos: Pixabay)

Read also:

 The legacy of slavery and the African-Caribbean mental health

The legacy of slavery (2): Identity and pathologies.

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