“Shrink Speak” is a podcast by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has enriched the lesser-known dialogue surrounding mental health during COVID-19 in his ongoing podcast “Shrink Speak.” The launch of this subseries aired on March 15, 2020.
“Shrink Speak” issued its first episode “The Need for a Congressional Psychiatrist” on July 30, 2017, establishing the basis for the show. In discussing the healthcare and socio-economic systems implicated in mental health stigma with other professionals, “Shrink Speak” aims to educate the public rather than provide surface-level commentary.
Given Dr. Lieberman’s background in schizophrenia research and release of the book “Shrink: The Untold Story of Psychiatry,” his work on “Shrink Speak” appears as an additional resource to affirm neuroscience legitimacy. In an interview with NPR, Dr. Lieberman said, “…it’s only really been in the last 50 years that psychiatry has established a scientific foundation for itself and developed treatments that truly work beyond a shadow of a doubt and are safe.”
The coronavirus puts mental health at stake
However, recent episodes of the podcast retain relevance to current traumatic phenomena, namely the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Lieberman provides not only a thorough analysis of the individual mental effects of the virus, but also delivers an evaluation through a collective, and therefore a much broader lens, as well.
Dr. Lieberman issued a three-part series, “COVID-19 CRISIS,” at the beginning of the pandemic, which eventually grew into a larger conversation “Shrink Speak” took on in recent months. Prominent experts within the medicine and science communities have been featured in each episode, effectively advancing the credibility of the medical discipline during a time of apparent distrust.
The first episode aired March 15, 2020, just days after the national shutdown. In this piece, Dr. Lieberman invited Dr. Brian Fallon, the director of the Lyme and tick-borne diseases research center at Columbia University. The two discuss the mental health impacts of the pandemic, and how those affected are coping in response.
“Avoid checking the media for the latest updates,” Fallon asserted, offering advice to help mitigate pandemic anxiety. Though the two men laughed at this seemingly fatuous comment, Fallon ensured that this detail should not be discounted or overlooked. “We actually did a study … and we found that people who check the Internet more often are more likely to get anxious.”
Introducing various qualified voices to the show
In gathering diverse viewpoints from those whose specialties overlap with Dr. Lieberman’s, “Shrink Speak” is not one-dimensional. Rather, the show is enhanced by the nuanced perspectives, rendering it altogether thought-provoking.
Dr. Lieberman strategically uses these voices to further inform the public of the scientific groundwork on which knowledge of COVID-19 has been founded. For example, when speaking with Dr. Fallon, he asks him to draw a distinction between “pandemic” and “epidemic.” The language and details in “Shrink Speak” therefore become accessible to all audiences as opposed to a niche and perhaps elitist group.
Other figures interviewed in this series include Pulitzer Prize-winning author and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and infectious disease expert, Walter Ian Lipkin, the John Snow professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
Identifying the multifaceted nature of collective trauma with “Shrink Speak”
Soon after completing this series, Dr. Lieberman has continued the conversation surrounding the mental and emotional consequences of COVID-19, but from unexplored angles. The four episodes extending this discussion focus on molecular and serological testing, pandemic anxiety, grief, and coping with loss.
The latest installment of the COVID subseries launched Oct. 9, 2020, centered around the shared grief America has endured. This piece does not exclude the timely social and political layers to this suffering, which adds depth to the conversations held.
Dr. Lieberman opens this dialogue to professor of clinical medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center Andrew Solomon and Kay Jamison, co-director of the Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“What you have is this confusion,” Jamison said, explaining how the lack of cohesiveness and clarity from the federal government affects an individual’s psyche. “What’s frustrating is that a lot of it is so unnecessary. A certain amount of pain and suffering is built into a terribly traumatic situation, but I think it’s been made so much worse.”
The three further explain issues that arise with a lack of transparency from the government, which coincides with political and racial turmoil specific to the time of the episode’s release date.
Reflecting on this, they conclude that “these events have created a cascade and cycle of emotional responses that are roiling the American population and collectively producing a sense of loss,” as indicated in the description.
It appears that the conversation within the medical and science communities is not without consideration of broader and systemic issues. Dr. Lieberman allows for transparency throughout “Shrink Speak,” as well as his other works, providing listeners with an unfiltered, easily digestible, and credible resource.
Although the most recent episode of “Shrink Speak” aired Nov. 1, 2020, audiences may be able to expect a return from Dr. Lieberman in the near future as he is maintaining current studies and clinical trials.
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