August 2016 \ News \ MIND AND BODY
The Long View of Life and Mental Health

By Paul Summergrad, M.D.
  • Mr. Paul Summergrad, M.D.

It is always hard in the midst of events to maintain perspective and take a longer view. Given all our daily activities, an accurate perspective on our field—how people think about mental health or mental illness—can be hard to achieve. At a time of substantive developments in neuroscience, genetics, and changes in health care, doing so is important for our field  if we are to stay focused on the activities that will most benefit patients and families over the long term. 

Rapid developments in science or society are particularly hard to assess in the moment. I recently read a column by NYU Professor Clay Shirky on the current transformation of print journalism in an environment of intense pressure from digital media ( 2009). He noted how much the world had changed with Gutenberg’s invention in the 15th century of the printing press and movable type and how hard it was at the time to understand their significance. Noting that the transition was chaotic, he cited the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein and her book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. As Shirky wrote: 

She was able to find many descriptions of life in the early 1400s, the era before movable type. Literacy was limited, the Catholic Church was the pan-European political force, Mass was in Latin, and the average book was the Bible. She was also able to find endless descriptions of life in the late 1500s, after Gutenberg’s invention had started to spread. Literacy was on the rise, as were books written in contemporary languages, Copernicus had published his epochal work on astronomy, and Martin Luther’s use of the press to reform the Church was upending both religious and political stability.