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One year ago: Lee N. Robins

September 25, 2010 |  7:00 am

Lee-robins Lee N. Robins was a sociologist and psychiatrist who helped refine ideas about the roots of abnormal behavior and mental illness. She died one year ago in St. Louis.

Robins demonstrated through her research that abnormal behavior during childhood was a better predictor of psychiatric problems later in life, rather than childhood social class or depression, as was the contemporary belief.

She was the first to show that many drug-addicted Vietnam War veterans spontaneously lost their addictions when they returned to the U.S., challenging notions of the irreversible nature of this form of addiction.

"Lee Robins is one of the giants of psychiatric epidemiology," said Kathleen Bucholz, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

Robins was inspired by questions she asked as a child: Why did people do the things they did? Why did they behave violently? Above all, why did countries resort to war? It is fitting, then, that her primary contribution was the development of a structured interview, called the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, which allowed epidemiologists to evaluate patients reliably.

Her questions were so successful that the World Health Organization asked her to develop a multicultural version of the survey, which is now used internationally.

For more, read Lee N. Robins' obituary in The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Lee N. Robins. Credit: Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine