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What happens to the soul of a nation—and the meanings of safety and community—when we normalize mass shootings?

Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University | Award-winning author of Dying of Whiteness and What We've Become

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Jonathan Metzl on Political Issues That Could Impact Your Health (2:38)

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The Young Turks: Why Gun Violence Is Rising In America

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Jonathan Metzl on Real Time with Bill Maher (5:51)

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Jonathan Metzl discusses “Dying of Whiteness” on MSNBC

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“What is the meaning of public health in an armed society?” asks psychiatrist and author Dr. Jonathan Metzl. In his vital new book, What We’ve Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms, Metzl takes on an urgent topic: mass shootings and the contested social and racial politics of American firearms. Rather than preaching to one side or the other of the polarizing gun debate, he asks us to step back and think of the broader questions we face as a nation: How do we imagine safety? Are the divisions too deep, or is it possible to come together in solidarity? And, how on earth did we get here? This piercing analysis shows mass shootings as a symptom of our deepest unresolved conflicts. Metzl ultimately lights the long road of alliance-forging, racial-reckoning, and political power-brokering we must take to set things right.

“Metzl is provocative…he brings a unique blend of psychiatric insight and data analysis—as well as philosophical insights—into concepts of risk, cost, and community.”— Boston Globe

A renowned psychiatrist and professor, Dr. Jonathan Metzl is a widely sought after speaker on topics ranging from race, racism, and mental health to “structural competency” and medical education, to health in the U.S. South, to the politics of racial resentment in America. In his genre-shifting book Dying of Whiteness, which won the 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and many other honors, he changed how we understand what it means to be white in an age where the politics of racial resentment are higher than ever before. A regular commentator for major media outlets like ABC News and MSNBC, Metzl is also the Director of Vanderbilt’s Department of Medicine, Health, and Society, and author of several acclaimed books that challenge the ways we think about illness and health—including Dying of Whiteness, The Protest Psychosis, Prozac on the Couch, and Against Health.

His latest book, What We’ve Become, Living and Dying in a Country of Arms, is a vital new perspective on our current moment. Using the lens of gun reform, Metzl shows how we can reckon with our national conflicts and forge a new path towards racial justice and solidarity. What We’ve Become is not just a book about guns,” Jonathan says. Rather, it’s about how we can still come together to build a healthy democracy: by creating structures “that foster everyday life, education, pleasure, and commerce, bolster shared investment rather than mistrust, and welcome people who can engage with one another free from fear.” What We’ve Become is a New York Times Book Review Staff Pick and has been hailed as “consistently persuasive” by Kirkus, which calls it “a powerful, convincing effort to reframe the discussion.”

The former Guggenheim fellow’s previous book, Dying of Whiteness, is filled with interviews with real, everyday Americans, and demonstrates the need for cooperation and diversity in a divided country. The book makes the case that many Americans vote against their own interests out of fear or ignorance, and this leads them to have worse health outcomes and quality of life. Public Books says that “Metzl’s shocking conclusions keep ringing in your head long after you put his book down.” Alondra Nelson of Columbia University and the Social Science Research Council calls his writing “pathbreaking, provocative, empathetic, and poignant.”

Metzl is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry, and the director of the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University.  He is the winner of the 2020 APA Benjamin Rush Award for Scholarship, and has written extensively for the New York TimesWashington PostVICEPolitico, and other major publications about the most urgent hot-button issues facing America and the world. He is a frequent media commentator on issues of public health and gun violence who has appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, C-SPAN, CNN, AM Joy, PBS’s Amanpour & Co., HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, and many more.

Speech Topics

Mental Health and Fitness
Building a Culture of HealthRace, Gender, and Social Justice in Healthcare

Our health isn’t just determined by our biology—things like socioeconomic status, race, gender, and political alignment directly impact our quality of health and life. In this groundbreaking talk, acclaimed physician Jonathan Metzl shines a light on inequity in healthcare and guides us to actionable solutions to improve the quality of life for people across racial, economic, and political lines. When we understand the connections between mental health, diversity and racial justice, social and political movements, and our physical health, we can make informed choices that benefit the wellness of all.

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Politics & Society
Dying of WhitenessThe Politics of Polarization and their Effects on our Wellbeing
Racial resentment has led many lower-and middle-class white Americans to political choices that would supposedly put them back on top. But as physician Jonathan Metzl’s book Dying of Whiteness shows, those policies actually placed white Americans at ever-greater risk of illness.
Racial resentment fueled pro-gun laws in Missouri, caused resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and drove cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. The results of these policies? Rising dropout rates and falling life expectancies. Thoughtful, poignant, and vital, this talk offers a smart and necessary plan for working collectively toward a society that would be healthier for everyone.
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Politics & Society
Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms
There is perhaps no one more qualified to speak on gun violence in America than Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, an award-winning author, and the director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. In this talk, he breaks down four frequent assumptions that often arise in the aftermath of a mass shooting: 1) that mental illness causes gun violence, 2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, 3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and 4) that gun control “won’t prevent” another shooting.
In this thought-provoking presentation, Metzl uses scientific evidence and engaging storytelling to paint a nuanced picture of the increasingly lethal realities of American life—and how we can move forward.
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The Post-Pandemic World
COVID and SocietyHow The Pandemic Reshaped The World And What’s To Come

The COVID-19 pandemic set into motion a series of events that will reshape society in lasting ways, from how we live, work, and learn, to the social issues we protest and aim to change, and the stories we consume. These changes will be shaped by innovations from fields including tech, medicine, architecture, humanities, politics, science, and economics. Ultimately, the post-COVID era will affect how we think about ourselves, our relationships with others, our sense of social and racial justice, and perhaps most importantly, our place in the world for years to come.

In this talk, physician Jonathan Metzl explores the pandemic’s impact on our past, present, and future. Engaging with politicians, artists, activists, doctors, scientists, and educators, he paints an illuminating portrait of our current moment, as well as answers looming questions: How will we address diversity, equity, and inclusion? What is the future of our jobs and careers? What have we learned about battling misinformation?

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