World Social Psychiatry

: 2019  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 23--24

The social brain: Wired to connect and belong

Eliot Sorel 
 Departments of Global Health, Health Policy and Management, and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Eliot Sorel
George Washington University, Washington, DC

How to cite this article:
Sorel E. The social brain: Wired to connect and belong.World Soc Psychiatry 2019;1:23-24

How to cite this URL:
Sorel E. The social brain: Wired to connect and belong. World Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 12 ];1:23-24
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Full Text

Human brains are wired for belonging and connectivity in dyads, groups, and extended social networks, all of which are protective for health, longevity, and quality of life in transaction with the natural and built environments.[1]

Social is defined as “living together in communities” and social psychiatry as “the relationship between environment and mental illness.”[2]

Our brains deal with complexity, diversity, and specificity. However, pervasive inequity, violence, shame, stigma, and discrimination against the mentally ill continue in the 21st century and pose unique challenges.[3],[4],[5] Thus, social psychiatry is called upon to respond not only to illness but also to develop both a theory and a set of practices to protect and promote health, to prevent illness, and to advocate for equity and nondiscrimination.

Di Nicola, in, “A Person is a Person Through Other Persons: A Social Psychiatry Manifesto for the 21st century,” creatively challenges the scientific community generally, and the house of medicine, in particular, to redefine social psychiatry.[6] Current scientific evidence augments the understanding of the brain and its functions, its transactions with the human genome, microbiome, and the social determinants of health, and reinforces the brain's connective role in social networks. The result is health protective consequences.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including mental disorders and their comorbidities, lead in the global burden of disease.[5] Social psychiatry may play a healing and catalytic role in addressing NCDs across economies. Ample scientific evidence, including adverse childhood experiences, documents the impact of social factors on the prevalence of NCDs.[7] Thus, defining social psychiatry – theory, principles, practice, values, translation, and implementation – splendidly presented by Di Nicola, is particularly timely in this first issue of the World Social Psychiatry, a World Association of Social Psychiatry (WASP) new official journal.

The challenge of Di Nicola's undertaking stimulates fond memories of my early involvement with WASP, dating back to the Congress held in Opatija, former Yugoslavia (Autumn 1976), where, as a young psychiatrist, I posed to the leaders of what was then the International Association of Social Psychiatry, precisely the same question: What is social psychiatry? A progress report on that question was provided in 1998, in “Social Psychiatry: A Mission and a Vision for the 21st century.”[8] It is now timely to address this question anew.

Di Nicola – in his excellent analysis of the current state of the field, including its challenges – draws widely and wisely upon multiple scientific, medical, social, and philosophical sources, identifying the tributaries of social psychiatry. He astutely challenges the reader to consider social psychiatry's principles, values, operational criteria, and the urgent and necessary need for an updated definition of the field, its theory and practice, as well as its relationships and consequences for research, education and training, translation and implementation science, health systems and services, health policies, and advocacy.

While acknowledging that in the 20th century, social psychiatry made significant contributions to the practice (psychodrama, family therapy, and group therapy), Di Nicola appropriately reminds the reader of the need for developing valid, specific, and reliable criteria for research in social psychiatry, implementation science, and their applications to education and training, health systems and services, and health policy and advocacy.

Moreover, Di Nicola brilliantly incorporates the growing impact of the rapidly changing physical environment by climate change, and information/communication technology the impact that change will have, globally, on all groups and societies, including impact on individuals' and populations' determinants of health/mental health. Climate change will affect the next generation far more drastically than has been the case to date. Beginning with this new World Social Psychiatry Journal and Di Nicola's lead article on redefining social psychiatry for the 21st century, climate change will impact the redefinition of the field. Social and Environmental Psychiatry (a possible new identity/definition for the field), along with Global Mental Health, must be integral components of redefining social psychiatry for the 21st century. Together, these two related dimensions may be invaluable resources in translating and applying new knowledge useful not only for research, services, training, and education but also for policy and advocacy development and implementation by the World Bank Group and the World Health Organization in their current initiatives on making mental health a global development priority, and achieving TOTAL health for all in the 21st century.[9],[10]


1Lieberman MD. Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. New York: Penguin Random House, Broadway Books; 2014.
2American Heritage Dictionary. 4th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; 2000.
3Marmot M. The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World. New York: Bloomsbury Press; 2015.
4Sorel E. Translating scientific evidence into global health policy: Making mental health count for individuals' and populations' health. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2016;32:185-7.
5Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Making Mental Health Count: The Social and Economic Costs of Neglecting Mental Health Care. OECD Health Policy Studies. Paris: OECD Publishing; 2015.
6Di Nicola V. “A person is a person through other persons”: A social psychiatry manifesto for the 21st century. World Soc Psy 2019;1:8-21.
7Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. Am J Prev Med 1998;14:245-58.
8Sorel E. Social psychiatry: A mission and a vision for the 21st Century. Int Med J 1998;5:247-9.
9Sorel E. Total health for all in the 21st century: Integrating primary care, mental health and public health. In: Dignity in Mental Health. Occoquan, VA: World Federation for Mental Health; 2015. p. 16-7.
10World Bank Group. Mental Health Among Displaced Peoples and Refugees: Making the Case for Action at the World Bank Group.Washington D.C.: World Bank Group; 2017.