(Mis)Diagnosed: How Bias Distorts Our Perception of Mental Health

By Jonathan Foiles

A passionate and well-informed study on the importance of improving inclusiveness in mental health evaluations."―Kirkus Reviews

In a clear, empathetic style, Jonathan Foiles, author of the critically acclaimed This City Is Killing Me, takes us through troubling examples of bias in mental health work. Placing them in context of past blunders in the history of psychiatry and the DSM, he looks closely at questions that lay bare the intersections between mental health care, race, gender, and sexuality:

  • Why are women more likely to be labeled borderline personalities?
  • Is transphobia being treated today like homosexuality was in the past?
  • Has “protest psychosis,” a term used to diagnose Black men during the civil rights era, simply been renamed schizoaffective disorder?
  • How different is our current label of “intellectual disability” from the history of eugenics?
  • What does it actually mean to be diagnosed with a “mental illness”?

This slim but wide-ranging collection of essays wrestles with these questions and offers potential ways forward in a world where mental health diagnoses can be helpful, but not necessarily absolute. 

A pragmatic and sympathetic guide to how we might craft a better and more just therapeutic future for all people.


Jonathan Foiles is a lecturer at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. He is the author of This City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America (Belt Publishing, 2019).


Praise for (Mis)Diagnosed:

 "The fascinating history of an industry once preoccupied with the condemnation of witchcraft, supposed female hysteria, and homosexuality.... A passionate and well-informed study on the importance of improving inclusiveness in mental health evaluations."—Kirkus Reviews

"What does it mean to place a label on the pain of someone’s life? What do we do to a person when we call them depressed, bipolar, or schizophrenic? In (Mis)Diagnosed, Jonathan Foiles writes with sympathy, grace, and intelligence, probing the interaction between patient, therapist, and social context. This humane and undogmatic critique of psychiatry demonstrates how diagnostic categories can obscure social and historical inequities. A great book for anyone interested in hearing and helping other people, or for anyone interested in the mystery of the human mind." —Gabriel Brownstein, author of The Open Heart Club

“In a world that increasingly loves a diagnosis, what are clinicians to do who fear the ramifications of identifying with disease, disorder, drugs, and deficits? The history of the mental health profession’s endless missteps—the violent misogyny, racism, eugenics, and sexual morality that haunt the (mis)diagnosed—should give us serious pause. More than this historical elucidation, you will find a powerful appeal for careful clinical listening and the hard work of connecting with patients so they can learn to play again with their inner life—a terrain that has so little to do with the labels that want to designate each of us ‘crazy’ or ‘chemically imbalanced.’ I salute Foiles for this clear and ethical exposition.” —Jamieson Webster, author of Conversion Disorder and Stay, Illusion

Praise for Jonathan Foiles's This City is Killing Me

"Offers an empathetic look at how the pressures of surviving in an urban environment—including unemployment, poverty and violence—make finding help even more difficult and shares a call to action to help heal our communities." —Chicago Public Library

"In case it wasn’t clear from the title of his new book, West Side social worker Jonathan Foiles doesn’t mince words. In This City is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America, Foiles follows five current and former patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in Douglas Park as they deal with the demons of urban life. Their stories are engaging — one, whom Foiles calls Robert (names and identifying details have been changed), believes he was an African prince stolen from his family at birth — but never voyeuristic. Rather, each case exemplifies how systems like Illinois’s Department of Children and Family Services, Chicago Public Schools, and, in Robert’s case, the Chicago Housing Authority affect patients." —Chicago magazine

"In his book, This City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America, [Foiles] seeks to highlight how larger traumas within a community—things like unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing, violence—as well as historical factors (Jim Crow laws, redlining, displacement) can have a toxic impact that makes it harder for people within those neighborhoods to thrive." —Marissa De La Cerda, Chicago Reader

"We rediscover the trauma of everyday life in urban America as Jonathan Foiles documents the course of his practice as a psychotherapist in the most hard-pressed surrounds of Chicago. He explores the conditions that perpetuate the experience of oppression, demoralization, and suffering, challenging us to rethink what it means to speak of help and care. He brings a moral energy and a muscular pragmatism to his conceptions of therapeutic action and hope." —William Borden, PhD, Lecturer, School of Social Service Administration and Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021 | ISBN: 9781948742993 | PSYCHOLOGY | PAPERBACK | 126 PAGES

Next Previous