Ronald Kessler

Ronald Kessler
Photograph by Stu Rosner

In on-line biomedical databases, Ronald Kessler ranks as the most widely cited author in psychiatry and psychology. Yet Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist; he’s a sociologist who directed the first (1990-92) and second (2001-03) National Comorbidity Surveys. The more recent study made headlines this year with its finding that fully 50 percent of American adults have had some form of mental disorder. (For those who find that a surprisingly high figure, Kessler explains, “Nobody would be shocked if we found that 99.9 percent of the U.S. population had had a physical illness.”) Another of Kessler’s studies determined that only 14 percent of those who seek help get adequate treatment. “We can treat mental disorders as successfully as diabetes or asthma,” he says. “We can do a good job, but we don’t do a good job.” A specialist in survey methods and statistical analysis, Kessler also heads the $100-million WHO World Mental Health Surveys that are interviewing 250,000 respondents in 30 countries. A Philadelphia native, he graduated from Temple in 1969, earned his Ph.D. at New York University, and taught at Michigan from 1979 to 1996 before coming to Harvard. He lives in Newton with his wife, Vicki, a clinical psychologist, and four teenaged children, and tends to his own mental health by playing squash five days a week and collecting eighteenth-century Pennsylvania furniture. “The typical person with a mental illness takes a decade before getting treatment,” he says. “Everyone is so concerned about the costs of treating mental disorders. But how about the costs of not treating them?”

You might also like

The Roman Empire’s Cosmopolitan Frontier

Genetic analysis reveals a culture enriched from both sides of the Danube.

Tobacco Smoke and Tuberculosis

Harvard researchers illuminate a longstanding epidemiological connection. 

Discourse and Discipline

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences broaches two tough topics.

Most popular

WinterFest Weekends

Sledding, Nordic skiing, and art at Fruitlands Museum, in Harvard, Massachusetts

Harvard and HUCTW Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

The deal marks the end of nearly a year of strained negotiations between the University and its largest labor union.

Harvard’s Eugenics Era

When academics embraced scientific racism, immigration restrictions, and the suppression of “the unfit”

More to explore

Illustration of a box containing a laid-off fossil fuel worker's office belongings

Preparing for the Energy Transition

Expect massive job losses in industries associated with fossil fuels. The time to get ready is now.

Apollonia Poilâne standing in front of rows of fresh-baked loaves at her family's flagship bakery

Her Bread and Butter

A third-generation French baker on legacy loaves and the "magic" of baking

Illustration that plays on the grade A+ and the term Ai

AI in the Academy

Generative AI can enhance teaching and learning but augurs a shift to oral forms of student assessment.