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Mental and Medical–Joined at the Head


The American Medical Association is the country’s largest and most influential organization of physicians.

73 years ago they had a psychiatrist at the helm, for the very first time.

And then a long, long wait.

But just yesterday, Dr. Jeremy A. Lazarus, a psychiatrist, was inaugurated to the presidency of the AMA.

Vowing to focus on the mental needs of combat troops, veterans and their families in particularly, he also said:

As AMA president, my focus will include the need to better  integrate mental health care into other aspects of medical care – to provide  more resources to treat more people.

Clinical professor of psychiatry at the  University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and a voluntary professor of  psychiatry at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller  School of Medicine, Lazarus graduated with honors in psychiatry from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

In a touching acceptance speech, Lazarus said of his choice to become a psychiatrist

I wanted to help repair  shattered minds – to guide people through the minefields of depression, or  personality disorders – or crushing changes in circumstance.

I wanted to help someone  who was troubled – lead a fulfilling, normal and healthy life. I wanted to pull a  profoundly depressed person back from the ledge of a potential suicide, and  watch him grow from a troubled adolescent – to a productive adult.

In 40 years as a  psychiatrist, I’ve been fortunate to help many people.  For me, that’s what it’s all about.

He also spoke of his mental health experience as guiding his vision for the AMA:

For our specialty, taking  a person whose mental health is in jeopardy – and helping them toward recovery  – is like watching someone walk again, or curing cancer.

When something is wrong  in the brain or the mind, it affects the whole person. The challenge is in how  we determine what’s really going on – whether it’s psychological or  neurochemical or both.

. . . .We are trained to listen both to what is said  out loud – and what isn’t said at all.  Listen to all sides – and  then help people find their own path.

By listening – and  working to find common ground, I want to bring greater unity to our AMA.

In 1939, psychiatrist Rock Sleyster took his place as the 93rd president of the AMA.

It is a different world.

When Dr. Slyeyster took over as head, 47% of the hospital beds in America were filled with persons with mental diseases. And, practitioners were beginning to see hope for a disease known as dementia praecox, with the use of insulin shock therapy.

It is a different world, where 10% of hospital beds are for the mentally ill, and dementia praecox, known now as schizophrenia, can be treated with oral medications.

Perhaps it won’t be another 7 decades before the AMA elects a psychiatrist to lead it again.

But if it is, we can only imagine what changes time will have wrought.

Let us hope that Dr. Lazarus has the foresight and leadership ability to set us off on the right path to deal with the constantly changing world of mental health care.

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