Black Pioneers in Mental Health


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By: Shelly-Anne Johnson, LCSW

The Pioneer
This Black History Month, we celebrate Dr. Hope Landrine. She was an expert in health psychology and public health. Her research was among the first to present scientific data that explained that stereotypes of women, people living in poverty, and racial and ethnic minorities were likely affecting psychiatric diagnoses and helping to maintain the inequities already present in society. Dr. Landrine’s passion for helping underserved populations began in her teenage years, influenced largely by her studies and harsh upbringing in an impoverished inner city. Her parents and family members struggled with physical and mental health disorders throughout her childhood, resulting in the death of both of her parents before she graduated college. Dr. Landrine knew she needed to use her knowledge to raise awareness and help create better equity in these areas. In an interview with Psych Feminist Voices, Dr. Landrine remarked that “I grew up in a welfare family in the slums… so poverty was something I was interested in.” She reported that her interest was in the health and well-being of “poor people.” Subsequently, her life’s work was spent in the pursuit of equity. Dr. Landrine retired from East Carolina University in 2018 as director of the Center for Health Disparities, and professor of psychology and public health in the Brody School of Medicine. Dr. Hope Landrine died a year later on September 3, 2019, in Greenville, NC, after a brief illness.

Her Work
In her career, Dr. Landrine has published more than 125 articles and books, and published one of the first textbooks on cancer disparities. She has obtained over $11 million in individual research grants. She has received 45 Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Lifetime Contributions to research on racial-ethnic Minorities, and she has received numerous other national awards for research. Dr. Landrine frequently applied a public health lens to psychology and psychiatry and argued that the field of psychology’s focus on decontextualized individuals is insufficient for understanding overall health. While she believed that behavior and environmental factors played the most important roles in physical health, she helped to shed light on how psychological factors affected overall health as well. Some of her most impactful work was done in the area of health psychology. Behavioral medicine as a discipline did not emerge until the mid to late 80’s so her knowledge base on the subject was largely from her direct experiences and studies. Her research focused on social and cultural factors in African American disparities in chronic diseases and health behaviors. Specifically, Dr. Landrine examined the role of residential segregation, community poverty, racial discrimination, and African American acculturation in cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and in their effects on health, mental health and addiction behaviors. What follows is brief introduction to the area that she pioneered and its significance to the African American community.

Area of Focus & Its Significance
Health psychology as Dr. Landrine used it is the study of psychological and behavioral processes in health, illness, and healthcare and how these factors specifically affect marginalized communities. The discipline is concerned with understanding how psychological, behavioral, and cultural factors contribute to physical health and illness. In this field, the knowledge of psychology and health is used to promote general well-being and understanding of physical illness. With the recent shift toward a mind-body connection in recent years, this school of thought will continue to become even more prominent. During the 60’s and 70’s, there was not much research into the African American experience in America with respect to physical and mental health, which is a part of the reason her research was so groundbreaking and thought provoking at that time.

Among her many published works was the 1992 publication of “The Politics of Madness,” which shed light on the presence of existing societal inequities in the diagnosis and categorization of psychiatric disorders. Her goal was to research the possibility of psychiatric disorders being the product of inequality without any psychological or intra-psychic processes. She went on to prove how the categorization of psychiatric disorders further disenfranchised people of color and other marginalized communities.

Her unique take on social justice in healthcare made space for a new kind of dialogue. Despite a lack of research in the area or a solid knowledge base to build on, Dr. Landrine paved her own way. Creating studies and conducting countless hours of research to initiate long lasting change in the understanding of her community. This led to more informed care for both mental and physical health. Because of her significant contributions to the fields of Psychology, Dr. Landrine is a Pioneer in Mental health.

Read more about Dr. Landrine below:
Feminist Voices
American Psychological Association

February 9, 2023


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