Updated: Aug 30, 2021
It is with great sadness that the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) shares news of the passing of Dr Hagop Akiskal on 20 January 2021 in San Diego, California.
Dr. Akiskal obtained his medical degree (Alpha Omega Alpha) from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in 1969. Thereafter he settled in the United States and obtained his psychiatric training at the Universities of Tennessee, Memphis and Wisconsin, Madison. He was appointed Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Tennessee (1972-1990), and subsequently recruited as the Senior Science Advisor to the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (1990-1994). Dr Akiskal went on to become Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the International Mood Center at the University of California in San Diego, and held an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Lisbon. In 1996, he was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Professor Akiskal rose to prominence with his integrative theory of depression (Science, 1973) inspiring a surge of productivity based on data from his vast clinical practice and associations with researchers from around the globe. He drew inspiration on his schizophrenia research from masters like Kurt Schneider and Karl Jaspers, while Emil Kraeplin and Ernst Kretschmer had a significant influence on his clinical research in the field of Mood Disorders (specifically in describing the Bipolar Spectrum and especially, Cyclothymia). The paper from his outpatient clinic, published in 1977, became an iconic reference - the importance of which relied on collecting long-term prospective clinical data. Akiskal rapidly became known around the world for his work on the bipolar spectrum and rehabilitation of affective temperaments. He built on this by creating the famous TEMPS-A (Temperament Evaluation of Memphis, Paris and San Diego Auto questionnaire) which has since been translated into 32 languages worldwide. The questionnaire proved to be a powerful tool in the description of basic temperaments, and served to increase understanding of the whole spectrum of bipolarity which was, at that time, outside the typical and standard definitions. Dr Akiksal was the author of more than 500 articles and 25 books.
Dr Akiksal received the Gold Medal for Pioneer Research (Society of Biological Psychiatry), the German Anna Monika Prize for Depression, the NARSAD Prize for Affective Disorders, the Jean Delay Prize for international collaborative research (World Psychiatric Association), as well as the French Jules Baillarger and the Italian Aretaeus Prizes for his research on the bipolar spectrum.
He was proud of his Armenian Lebanese origins and spoke fluently in five different languages. In 2003, Dr Akiksal was decorated with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor “for exceptional humanitarian national service.” He was decorated with the Golden Medal of Merit in Health by the President of the Lebanese Republic in 2011.
Of course, what made Hagop really special were his superior oratory gifts. It was always a pleasure to listen to his discourse on his observations, punctuated by references to the ancient masters. He will be deeply missed for his innovative thinking and his profound devotion to Science and the art of teaching. His legacy will continue through the long list of those he influenced on the five continents.
"There are special people in our lives that never leave us - even after they are gone"
Authors: Elie G Karam, Armen Soghoyan and Elie Hantouche