A Model of Meeting the Social Psychiatric Challenges of Leadership in Society


“And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do justice…”




“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion.” - Jacinda Ardern

Anyone who has been following these weekday columns on “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” knows that I have been concerned about the many social psychiatric problems we have in the United States and around the world: racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, ageism, transphobia, burnout, cults, extremism, and all the social isms and phobias. I have even gone so far as to recommend a formal classification of social psychopathologies to complement that of individuals in DSMs. In the meanwhile, there is much that leadership in both society and psychiatry can do to address these challenges.

“And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do justice.” - Jacinda Ardern

From a distance, it seemed that the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been successfully addressing these challenges, but she just announced that she would be stepping down next month after over 5 years of leadership. Her quote describes an aspect of one of those challenges that perhaps turned personal: burnout. She also said that after her announcement, she slept well for the first time in a long time, which was the same experience I had when I “retired.”

Some of the social psychiatric problems that she encountered, with both success and obstacles along the way, seemed to include:

  • Youth and female leadership. She was elected as a young and female leader of a prominent international country, having a child along the way, and encountered sexism and gender abuse as a consequence.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic. She responded to the pandemic in a way that allowed residents to live normally most of the time, with the lowest death rate in the Western World, yet also included encountered societal misogyny and personal threats.
  • Islamophobia. She empathized, sympathized, and publicly grieved after the 2019 mass shooting murders at 2 mosques by a white supremacist, and followed that with a buyback of guns and passing of a gun control law that bans most semiautomatic weapons.
  • Natural disaster. A volcanic eruption on White Island produced a natural disaster for the country, killing 22 tourists and guides in the process.
  • Climate change. She recognized climate change and sustainability as priorities for the future, passing a bill targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Social media. She established a global call to reduce extremism on social media.
  • Diversity. She formed the most diverse government in her country’s history, including more women, indigenous Maori, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

“One day, it will be our job to try to understand how a group of people could succumb to such wild and dangerous mis- and disinformation” - Jacinda Ardern

That is where we in psychiatry come in. That understanding has to come from our expertise in group process.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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