As we commemorate the landmark March on Washington, parallels are drawn between Dr Martin Luther King Jr's dreams of equality and the goals of social psychiatry, highlighting the need to address social determinants of mental health.
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Today is the 60th anniversary of the landmark March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. His dream was for progress in racial and social equality. I was a junior in high school at the time, and the March intensified my desire to become a psychiatrist that served the underserved.
In general, progress has occurred. However, there has also been some nightmarish backslide, especially in regards to hate crimes and gun violence, as exemplified in the racially based mass shooting in Jacksonville on Saturday, allegedly committed by someone with a psychiatric history.
Much of what Dr King dreamed for also correlates with the dreams of social psychiatry. This year, the American Association for Social Psychiatry (AASP), a dream of John Schwab, MD, is in its 52nd year of appreciating the social factors in mental health and disorders.
Once upon a time, at the turn of the new millennium, I served as the President of AASP. Both then and now, I’ve had dreams about what social psychiatry could do for the mental health of all individuals in general and our patients in particular. Fortunately, we have advanced and we are now paying more attention to what is called the social determinants of mental health. My intentions are admiration not cultural appropriation as I share some of my current dreams, using brief quotes from Dr King’s closing dream comments in his speech.
I still have a dream, too, “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” that this nation can overcome its increasing political divisiveness and conflicts to cooperate for the well-being of all.
I still have a dream, too, that if “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” were able to work together at times, that our legacy of the intergenerational transmission of trauma and unresolved unconscious guilt can be overcome.
I still have a dream, too, that one day we will not only reduce “the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression,” but also reduce the oppressive heating of our climate.
I still have a dream, too, that children “will not be judged by the color of their skin,” but that skin color will not adversely influence psychiatry.
I still have a dream, too, that “one day” Black and white and other psychiatrists will overcome structural racism in psychiatry and the use of such psychological terms for our skin.
I still have a dream, too, that “the rough places will be made plain” and that our epidemic of burning out will burn out.
“This is our hope.” Let us use our psychological expertise to reduce what I call our social psychopathologies and enhance our mental freedom from cultish thinking and mental disorders.
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.