Black skin, white coats : Nigerian psychiatrists, by Matthew M. Heaton

By Matthew M. Heaton

Black dermis, White Coats is a heritage of psychiatry in Nigeria from the Nineteen Fifties to the Eighties. operating within the contexts of decolonization and anticolonial nationalism, Nigerian psychiatrists sought to switch racist colonial psychiatric theories concerning the mental inferiority of Africans with a common and egalitarian version targeting extensive mental similarities throughout cultural and racial boundaries.  Read more...

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Extra info for Black skin, white coats : Nigerian psychiatrists, decolonization, and the globalization of psychiatry

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As the first governor-general of a unified Nigeria, Lugard decided that his form of indirect rule should be extended throughout Nigeria. As a result, the development of colonially funded education services and health-care systems ceased to be an administrative priority. The entrenchment of an indirect rule philosophy based on the concept of budgetary parsimony and justified in terms of cultural unobtrusiveness had a strong effect on the development of psychiatric services in Nigeria. Some officials, particularly those associated with the Department of Medical and Sanitary Services (DMSS), repeatedly argued in the interventionist spirit that the colonial government had a responsibility to expand its facilities to meet the needs of Nigerians deemed mentally ill.

Both Brown and Carothers argued that in a large, multiethnic country like Nigeria, recognition of the differences in culture across space was of paramount importance to the understanding and treatment of mental illness. Ultimately, however, both fell back on a tendency to lump all Africans together as a more or less homogeneous cultural unit and to define that unit primarily in contradistinction to Europeans.  vary from tribe to tribe in consonance with locally current mythology and belief,” and it was therefore important for psychiatric experts to know the cultures within which they were treating.

Lambo frequently spoke about the need to understand psychosocial phenomena in order to improve the mental health of the Nigerian workforce and, by extension, aid the economic development of the country. Politically and professionally, Nigerian psychiatrists engaged in a balancing act over how much external influence was appropriate and how much indigenous beliefs and therapies needed to be incorporated to manage the modernization transition. They had to negotiate a number of extant political and cultural boundaries.

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