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Can Mental Health Conditions and Medications Be Blamed for Racist Comments?

Here is a controversial question: What do you think of people using mental health diagnoses, medications or other substances as a rationale for making racist or otherwise hateful statements or endorsing violent action?

If someone has underlying beliefs that emerge when under the influence, it doesn’t let them off the hook. Perhaps substances diminish inhibitions, but they are not a free pass to spew vitriol. It is like Flip Wilson’s famous line, “The devil made me do it.” 

How can we, as a society, get people to accept responsibility for prejudice?

Amidst a media storm, comedian Roseanne Barr’s foot-in-mouth tweet cost her a hit television show. From 1988 to 1997, her weekly view into a blue collar, working class family appealed to audiences across the political and socio-economic spectrum. But the 2018 reboot had a new flavor — Barr’s outspoken support of the current administration was made clear in the show as well. Two months later, in a late night tweet Barr compared Valeria Jarrett, former special adviser to President Barack Obama, to an ape and ABC quickly cancelled the series. 

Barr blamed her social media comments on Ambien which she claims loosened her tongue. Not likely, according to a New York Times article. Ambien manufacturer Sanofi also issued a statement denying her claim. People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.

Is Hatred A Mental Illness?

Although it does not carry a DSM-5 diagnosis, entrenched bigotry can be a catalyst for hateful acts. As I was driving along a highway in Warrington, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) on the first day of June, the sun shone brightly, and a light breeze blew. I pulled up next to a convertible piloted by a young man. Next to him perched on the headrest was a gorilla mask. Its rubber face was surrounded by a flurry of black hair. I rolled down my window and asked him about it, laughing. The laughter turned to shock when he told me, “That’s my girlfriend Shaniqua.”

Shocked, I said, “Not cool, dude.”

He didn’t get it.

I explained that it was vile to refer to this mask using the name of what is typically that of an African American woman.

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed. He likely thought I was being overly sensitive. I watched through my rear-view mirror as the man in the car behind me engaged in conversation with him as well, laughing along with him.

Who taught this young man to be racist and sexist? If I had the opportunity, I would have had a conversation with him about this. I’m not certain that I would make any headway, in terms of changing his mind, but it would have been a worthwhile endeavor to at least plant seeds of understanding what fed his actions.

I asked others what they thought about Barr’s claim that Ambien made her do it and whether they think person should be held accountable for racist statements like these. Here are a few of their responses:

“What do I think? No. Cop out, blamer.”

“Ambien put me to sleep, not tweet racist comments!”

“She is also now DENYING that she is a racist. Say what??? One thing seems certain — she is in SERIOUS need of professional help.”

I was on Ambien for a week once. It didn’t make me racist.”

I am my own responsibility.”

In vino veritas.”

“They say whenever you’re drunk, your real personality comes out… seems our current president has given carte blanch for all those folks that had their Dark side hidden away for so long, to stand out and be a**holes again…”

Not all of them but a lot… self-made victims.”

It’s spineless! If it’s in your heart, your mouth will speak it, so just own it!!”

I call bullshit on Barr’s lazy excuse. This is WHO. SHE. IS. She needs to OWN. IT.”

“I own my sh*t. Period.”

“Medications, diagnoses, and side effects don’t make you anything. And to blame anything other than yourself for what you say and do is cowardly, especially when you are doing something in public than you already do in private. Giving real consequences is a start. Rebuking those public figures that do this is another start.” 

“It seems that since it appears that 45 isn’t getting consequences that others think they can do the same thing and without consequences. The media is playing a post on this too by backing off and not being 100% truthful. Don’t dance around it when 45 lies, call it out!”

“If one is prone to behaving badly while drunk, one should not get drunk. Same with drugs or other substances, including foods.””

“I know many who identify as ‘Spiritual’ who have great excuses for their bad behavior, such as their Chart, or genetically pre-disposed illness, everyone else, etcetera. I rarely buy into their conveniently making themselves the ‘victim’ and call their BS. There are cases where I sense something other, or deeper that I do not understand, and will give them a ‘pass’.”

Can Mental Health Conditions and Medications Be Blamed for Racist Comments?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). Can Mental Health Conditions and Medications Be Blamed for Racist Comments?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Jun 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.