Renowned Psychiatrist Dr. John A. Talbott, Advocate for Mentally Ill and Homeless, Passes Away at 88

Demise of Dr. John A. Talbott

Dr. John A. Talbott passed away on November 29 at his Baltimore home (88 years old) after a long and accomplished career as a psychiatrist. His death was confirmed by his wife, Susan Talbott.

He was an early advocate of deinstitutionalization movement which sought to replace the nation’s aging mental hospitals with community-based care.

Initially he an early supporter of deinstitutionalization movement to dismantle America’s old mental hospitals and substitute them with community-based treatment options.

Dr. John A. Talbott changed into one of the most ardent critics, when it became clear that thousands of severely mentally ill people were not getting the care they needed because of lack of funding and political inertia.

Over his lifetime Dr. John A. Talbott held many prestigious positions in the field including President of the American Psychiatric Association (1977-78), Director Dunlap-Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Chairperson Department of Psychiatry University of Maryland School Of Medicine Baltimore.

Among others were editing journals such as Psychiatric Quarterly, Psychiatric Services, and The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease which he was editing until his demise.

He was accredited for being influential as a hospital leader or academic or member of important committees like President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on Mental Health and he did prolific writing contributing over 50 books.

For example, Dr. E Fuller Torrey commended him for his work at Manhattan State Hospital, indicating that it referred to much more than simply private practice in this field.

In 1984, during his presidency the American Psychiatric Association released a significant study on homelessness and mental illness revealing shocking consequences of discharging patients into unprepared communities, calling it “one major societal tragedy.”

Dr. John A. Talbott gave an honest confession in 1984 admitting psychiatrists’ overselling community-based treatments that contributed to its loss of credibility within the profession.

Furthermore Dr. Allen Frances paid tribute to him in a posthumous article published in a medical journal, describing his life as both extraordinary and disappointing.

He emphasized the degree to which he contributed to the concept of “community psychiatry”.

It was an approach that looked at mental illness not merely as a biological predisposition, but one influenced by social conditions advocating for treatments based on where patients lived and what services were available.

Unfortunately, expectations for extensive outpatient care within the community setting were not met.

The diversion of funds and resources coupled with lack of finances saw Community Mental Health Act (1963) fail to achieve its aim of having 2000 community mental health centers by 1980 while deinstitutionalization led to significant reduction in the number of state hospital patients.

Born on November 8, 1935, in Boston, to parents Mildred and Dr. John Harold Talbott, a prominent professor of medicine and editor, Dr. John A. Talbott married Susan Webster in 1961.

His wife Susan, two daughters; a sister and six grandchildren survive him after graduating from Harvard College (1957) then attending Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (M.D., 1961).

While serving as a captain in the Medical Corps during the Vietnam War, this man was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts to persuade soldiers to take their malaria tablets. Upon returning from overseas he actively participated in anti-war activities.

After fifteen years as Chairperson Department of Psychiatry University of Maryland School Of Medicine Baltimore Dr. John A. Talbott retired from his position as Chairman Psychiatry University Of Maryland in 2000.

He retired to pursue his passion for fine dining contributing on online food platforms while chronicling his experiences on “John Talbott’s Paris” blog.

It is the end of an era in psychiatry with the death of Dr. John A. Talbott, who leaves behind his passion for defending patients’ rights and critical mind that has led to a quest for better mental health for the underprivileged groups in the society.

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