For Psychiatry, Our Bell Tolls for the Loss Of Carl Bell, MD

August 5, 2019

Let us honor him by discussing his work and helping to bring it even further along. Carl Bell, MD, in memoriam.

IN MEMORIAM

On August 2nd, 2019, the “bell” of an incoming message rang on the list-serve of the American Association of Community Psychiatrists. Our renowned colleague, Carl C. Bell, MD (October 28, 1947 – August 2, 2019), had unexpectedly died at the age of 71, cause unknown (as of August 5). The day after his death, two unprecedented mass shootings occurred, the kind of interpersonal violence that Dr Bell always tried to prevent in his professional life.

Perhaps never did a last name resonate so much with the work of a psychiatrist. Carl sounded the alarm for so many other concerns and challenges, such as:

- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Criminal Justice
- Multicultural Psychiatry
- Isolated Sleep Paralysis
- Misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
- Trauma and Its Aftermath

He brought attention to these concerns in many ways. He wrote scores of articles and books. He presented at many professional meetings and appeared on public media much more often than the typical psychiatrist. Most psychiatrists tend to be private and not too colorful. Dr Bell was neither. With his snazzy hats, worn indoors, he was easily recognizable. Whenever I spoke on a panel with him, I could not only look forward to a lively discussion, but somewhere and sometime during the meeting he was going to give a lesson on the Tai Chi that he had mastered along with karate.

Trauma Associated With Living in Violent Neighborhoods, By Carl C. Bell, MD

None of these activities slowed him down much from his everyday clinical work in Chicago. When the South Side Community Mental Health Council center that he helped found was suddenly closed in 2012 in a controversial decision by the State of Illinois, Dr Bell sat outside, waiting to see potential patients with his laptop and prescription pad. Like most administrators and leaders in community psychiatry, he faced ethical challenges of how to respond to inadequate resources.

No wonder that he was one of the rare psychiatrists to be featured in People magazine. Actually, I know of no other. In a March 21, 1988 article. “Chicago's Dr Bell, Gang Member Turned Psychiatrist, Mounts An Offense Against Black-on-Black Violence,” Dennis L. Breo wrote about his life up to that time. Maybe they will do so again. I wouldn’t even be surprised if a future comic strip, similar to the Marvel Comics he loved, came out based on his life as a super psychiatrist, pursing truth and justice the psychiatry way.

In the meanwhile, he left us a collection of his writings as of 2004 titled The Sanity of Survival: Reflections on Community Mental Health and Wellness (Third World Press). He also left many students who he mentored.

The famous saying by John Donne, “for whom the bell tolls,” was part of a sermon and later used as the title of a famous novel by Ernest Hemingway about another idealist. John Donne said that the bell of a death tolled for all. Carl’s bell tolls for us psychiatrists, our patients, and all the social justice issues that he addressed. Let us honor him by discussing his work and helping to bring it even further along.

Dr Moffic is an editorial board member and regular contributor to Psychiatric Times. He was a tenured Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Currently, Dr Moffic is focused on three major advocacy initiatives: physician burnout, climate change, and Islamophobia.