Remembering Eugene Paykel, MD…
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
November 1 and 2 are known as el Día de los Muertos, a Mexican-based holiday of celebrating ancestors. Usually those ancestors are family, but I personally would add on anyone who was essential to one’s life. In my career, that includes Eugene Paykel, MD, FRCP, FRCPsych, FMedSci, who died on September 3, 2023, in Cambridge, England, where he spent most of his career. He was born on September 9, 1934, in Auckland, New Zealand and was raised there.
I have often wondered what my career as a psychiatrist would have been without him. After all, I was not even sure I belonged at Yale University School of Medicine, being admitted as a sort of an experiment after 3 years, with no degree and no major, at the University of Michigan. Besides, Yale did not have any tests, so how was one sure of learning enough material, at least until National Board testing?
Rather, the emphasis was on personal development and research, with a required research project. However, as the time for doing a research project came into consideration, I was not sure what to do. My classmate friends were coming up with great projects, like doing one of the first-ever sets of interviews of Holocaust survivors.
I had one idea, but it fell through for want of an expert faculty member to guide me. I wanted to research the impact of maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancies on the ensuing infants. Fortunately, over the over 50 years since, much progress has been made in researching this subject.
Somehow, my interest in depression about this situation got me to Dr Paykel and his expanding research on clinical depression. In fact, I learned that he had just published a landmark study of depression and life events in 1969, which dovetailed with my second year at Yale.1 Instead of the pregnancy event, he very kindly supported my interest in looking at depression in medical inpatients, a setting where I just had a rotation. That worked out. It even led to my first-ever peer-reviewed article in a prominent medical journal.2 Although I never continued in this area of psychiatry per se, it gave me academic confidence and credibility as I began an academic career.
Dr Paykel left Yale to go to Great Britain in 1971, the same year I finished the project and graduated. He went on to an illustrative and award-winning career in the biological research on affective disorders, including being the sole editor of the influential Handbook of Affective Disorders, editions 1 and 2. He also became a skilled administrator and mentor to many, just like he was to me. As is said of some individuals, he was a gentleman and a scholar.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Paykel ES, Myers JK, Dienelt MN, et al. Life events and depression: a controlled study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1969;21(6):753-760.
2. Moffic HS, Paykel ES. Depression in medical in-patients. Br J Psychiatry. 1975;126:346-353.