From the Editor

Is psychiatry in need of rebranding?

Time for a new name?

It’s easy to think about the incredible progress our field has made in the past decades: the rise of more evidence-based treatments; the fading of stigma; the political dialogue that has begun.

But is “psychiatry” holding psychiatry back? That is, is our old name cutting into our new reality.

In this week’s Reading, we take a look at a short but provocative blog that argues for a rebranding.


Names and Renaming

“Maybe We Should Call Psychiatry Something Else”

Nathaniel P. Morris

Scientific American, 20 October 2016


When meeting new people, I’m often asked what I do for work. Depending on how I phrase my answer, I receive very different reactions. “I’m a doctor specializing in mental health” elicits fascination. People’s faces brighten and they say, “Very cool!”

But if I instead say, “I’m a psychiatrist,” the conversation falls quiet. They get uncomfortable and change the subject.

Mental health has made great strides in recent years.

Every week, people across the country participate in walks to support mental health causes. The White House now designates May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton released a comprehensive plan to invest in mental health care.

Yet psychiatry—the medical specialty focused on mental health—remains looked down upon in nearly every corner of our society.

Dr. Nathaniel P. Morris

So begins a blog written by Dr. Nathaniel Morris, a physician and a resident of psychiatry at Stanford, published on The Scientific American website.

He builds a case for renaming of psychiatry on several things:

· In Japan, when schizophrenia was renamed, studies show that stigma decreased.

· In Taiwan, community clinics don’t include “psychiatry” in their name in an effort to reduce stigma.

· He notes a similar trend across North America, where departments of psychiatry embrace names like “behavioural health.”

He continues:

It’s naïve to think a name change will remove all of the stigma against mental illness. We need more research to understand these diseases. We need better tests and criteria for our diagnoses. More effective medicines are needed. More spokespeople and more openness can make a difference.

But it’s equally misguided to ignore the role of language in the charged environment of mental health. The word psychiatry evokes thoughts of dated medical practices, like Freudian analysis and ice-pick lobotomies. Its sordid history turns away patients, providers, and the public from the progress of mental health care today.

Some thoughts:

1. This is a terrific essay.

2. Dr. Morris is thoughtful, provocative, and prolific. Though new to psychiatry (he’s just begun his residency), his essays have appeared in a variety of places including The Wall Street Journal. I suspect (and hope) that we’ll be hearing much from him in the coming years.

3. There is some literature on renaming individual disorders. Dr. Morris mentions Japan and schizophrenia. Others have considered this; Ellison et al. looked at schizophrenia (vs. a new term, integration disorder) in a British Journal of Psychiatry paper that also considered the renaming of bipolar affective disorder (from manic depression) – noting mixed results.

You can find the full paper here:

4. Of course, we have started to re-name. Dr. Morris has an American bias. In Canada, hospitals and clinics have embraced “mental health” over psychiatry in recent years. (I started my training at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in a building that was once named the Clarke Institute for Psychiatry.)

4. What I really think about Dr. Morris’ argument is… well, that’s not really the point of Readings. It’s about stoking discussion. And Dr. Morris’ piece does just that.

Reading of the Week. Every week I pick articles and papers from the world of Psychiatry.