Future of Psychiatry

February 19, 1969

Report Outline
Psychiatry: Growing Medical Specialty
Evolution of Psychiatry Over the Ages
Developments in Prospect in Psychiatry
Special Focus

Psychiatry: Growing Medical Specialty

Importance of Psychiatry in a Violent Society

A merican society, it has been asserted, is sick. This is an exaggerated notion—unless every society in which more than a few individuals are disturbed and violence is common is to be considered sick. Allusions to the troubled state of American society were heard frequently in 1968 following the assassination, by persons with obviously twisted minds, of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Before then and since then, the mindless stabbing or shooting of appalling numbers of far less prominent persons has served to reinforce doubts about the mental health of the American people. There are, indisputably, large numbers of mentally ill Americans, and the country is in urgent need of additional psychiatrists to treat them.

In the United States today, an estimated 20,000 psychiatrists are practicing, privately or in mental hospitals, or are engaged in teaching or research. Three thousand more are working under supervision in the standard three-year period of psychiatric training and residency following graduation from medical school. But there is a great gap between the total of 23,000 available psychiatrists and the number actually needed. Only about two million Americans are receiving psychiatric treatment, while as many as 20 million are believed to have mild to severe psychiatric problems.

Ten thousand additional psychiatrists are said to be needed to fill existing and projected positions in state mental hospitals, general hospitals, clinics, and community mental health centers, not counting federal institutions or private practice. That estimate was given to a House Appropriations subcommittee in 1966 by the chairman of the Commission on Manpower of the American Psychiatric Association, and it is still applicable today. There is no psychiatrist of any kind, in either public or private practice, in three-fourths of the counties in the United States.

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