Alexander H. Leighton, M.D.
Alexander H. Leighton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 17, 1908.
He received a B.A. degree from Princeton University in 1932, an M.S. from
Cambridge University in England in 1934, and an M.D. from John Hopkins Medical
School in 1936. He is Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, and Professor in the
Departments of Psychiatry and of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie
Dr. Leighton was finishing a residency in psychiatry when the U.S. entered the Second
World War and he was asked to carry out a study on the humane administration of people
under stress in a Japanese Relocation Centre. Following this, he became Chief of the
Foreign Morale Analysis Division of the Office of War Information. After the bombing
of Hiroshima, he concluded his naval career as part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey
In 1946, Leighton became Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Cornell
University and Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell Medical College. In 1948,
he initiated the first of the post-war studies of the distribution and amount
of mental illness in a general population. Named the "Stirling County Study",
this investigation concerns an area in Atlantic Canada. Now directed by his wife,
Dr. Jane Murphy Leighton, the study has recently been brought to its 40-year mark.
One of the first finding was that approximately 1 in 5 adults suffer from some sort
of mental illness, at any one point in time, with the most common being those illnesses
that involve depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse. Concerned to see if other areas
would show similar findings, Drs. Leighton and Murphy carried out a number of similar
studies in other settings such as New York City, Alaska, Nigeria, and Vietnam. Other
investigations of this type now number in the hundreds and have been conducted on all
continents of the world. All of such studies in North America give results with the
same message. Mental illnesses are more common than previously expected.
In 1966 Dr. Leighton moved to the Harvard School of Public Health as the first Head
of the Department of Behavioral Sciences. On retirement in 1975, he received a National
Health Scientist Award from Health and Welfare Canada and assumed a post-retirement
position at Dalhousie University. He has served on a number of advisory committees for
the governments of Canada and the United States and for the World Health Organization.
He is an Honorary Fellow in the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom,
a member of the Society of Scholars of John Hopkins University, and holds honorary
doctorates from Acadia University and University Laval. He is a recipient of a Rema Lapouse
Award from the American Public Health Association, a McAlpin Award from the U.S. National
Association for Mental Health, a Joseph Zubin Award from the American Pyschopathological
Association, and a lecture series bearing his name has recently been instituted in the
Canadian Psychiatric Association.
In 1975, Dr. Leighton became a resident of Canada and now holds dual citizenship in
Canada and the United States.