Presidents’ Day and Social Psychiatric Leadership in the American Psychiatric Association


American Presidents and APA Presidents celebrate today…




Today, February 20th, is Presidents’ Day in the USA. First established in 1879 to honor President Washington, it has expanded to include other presidents of our country. On Friday, February 17th, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) announced the results of our 2023 election.

These 2 societal and psychiatric events can be considered bookends on leadership. In psychiatry, the results seem to suggest some important social psychiatric changes, which just happen to be the subject matters of these weekday columns and weekly videos. This may be my professional bias, but here is what caught my attention.

First is the election of Ramaswamy Viswanathan, MD, as President-elect. If my history is accurate, he is scheduled to be the second APA President of Indian background.

Now, like most psychiatrists, he has wide-ranging expertise. He also courageously led a referendum against the America Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is a director of academic neuropsychiatric and schizophrenia programs, but what interested me most are some social psychiatric aspects. He had his early medical education in India before coming to the United States. He has been a leader of the Indo-American Psychiatry Association as well as the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture. He has been on the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry committee on Religion and Psychiatry. I hope all of that also meaningfully dovetails with the edited book that my colleagues and I are putting together on The Eastern Religions, Spirituality, and Psychiatry for Springer International.

In a generational way, he is also being bookended by Kamalika Roy, MD, who was elected as Minority/Underrepresented Representative Trustee. She also was first medically educated in India and is a generation younger. Dr Roy has also been a passionate advocate for women and has chaired the APA’s Women’s Caucus.

The other bookend to these social psychiatry representations is last year’s President-elect, who takes office this year at the APA’s annual meeting. That is Petros Levounis, who has been pointed out to be our first openly gay elected president. What a great social advance from the time when homosexuality was a diagnosable disorder in our DSM (though nothing should preclude someone with a diagnosable disorder per se from being elected)! Moreover, Dr Levounis is the lead editor of an APA book-in-progress on Nature Therapy, for which I have written a chapter on climate activism.

None of these psychiatrists overtly ran on their social identities as far as I can tell, but I hope that these social psychiatric leadership representations will not be just a brief and superficial highlight, but mean that we are beginning a reemphasis on the social aspects of our bio-psycho-social model, to which I would add eco for ecology as well as the spiritual.

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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