There is a World of Social Psychiatric Challenges and You can Help Solve Them!


How can you get involved and be more knowledgeable about social psychiatry?




Last Friday was not Friday the 13th, viewed as an unlucky day by many. But it was a Friday, January 27th, and I would like to designate it as Social Disorder Day.

If you have been following these weekday columns to any extent over the last year and a half or so, you will know that it often covers events outside of the United States. It is probably obvious why. Human nature, being what it is in its glories and vulnerabilities, has always grappled with how to live together everywhere.

As I see it, among the challenges is how to respond to our hard-wired tendency to fear the perceived “other,” then scapegoat them to retain power and security. Thankfully, we potentially have the cognitive ability to process this tendency and adjust our responses.

I suppose that if I looked hard enough, most any day I would find at least several global social psychiatric problems in the news. But last Friday, they seemed to be staring me right in the face with major world news items that were illustrative of us falling short of finding solutions. Here they are.

  1. Climate change in New Zealand. A summer’s (and it is summer down under) worth of rain fell in 15 hours, causing catastrophic flooding in Auckland, New Zealand.
  2. International transmission of trauma on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The worst that humanity can do to scapegoat the other was illustrated by the genocidal operation of Hitler and the Nazis to the Jewish people. As Friday went on, there was a mass shooting in Jerusalem.
  3. Police brutality in Memphis. The video showing what happened to Tyre Nichols in Memphis on January 7th, leading to his death on January 10th, seemingly depicted the police culture stemming from the systemic racism out of a history of slavery.

As far as I can tell, there has been precious little psychiatric involvement in the public media discussions about what I have called social psychopathologies, despite our expertise about such relevant topics as trauma, leadership, group process, and intrapsychic defense mechanisms.

For those interested in getting more involved and knowledgeable about social psychiatry, there are several opportunities to do so.

  • In the United States, the American Association for Social Psychiatry, for which I was a President at the turn of the new millennium, is concerned about these societal problems and welcomes new members.
  • A new international edited textbook on social psychiatry is due out soon from Oxford University Press.
  • The new President of the World Association of Social Psychiatry, Vincenzo Di Nicola, has a vision to bring social psychiatry from “cruising at 35,000 feet” down to the ground of clinical treatment, community outreach, education, and policy making. Let’s go meet him there.

There is precious little else other than modern social psychiatry that has not yet been tried to innovatively address our escalating social disorders and their risks to humanity.

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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