The Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program is addressing mental and behavioral health needs of underserved populations

Psychologists are trained to address the mental and behavioral health needs of underserved populations. Psychologists focus on treating depression and other mental health disorders, as well as changing behaviors that lead to chronic illnesses and untimely deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 20 Americans 12 years and older are depressed, and more than one in seven low-income Americans ages 18-59 are depressed. Of those depressed, 80% report some level of difficulty in functioning because of their depressive symptoms (2006).  In addition, unintentional harm (accidents) and intentional harm (suicides) were among the 15 leading causes of death nationwide in 2006. Furthermore, unhealthy behaviors contribute to chronic illnesses, and the CDC notes that seven out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic illnesses, with heart disease, cancer and stroke accounting for more than 50% of all deaths (2010).

  • Children. “Mental health and substance use disorders among children, youth and young adults are major threats to the health and well-being of younger populations which often carryover into adulthood.” “In any given year, the percentage of young people with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders is estimated to between 14% and 20%.” “The annual quantifiable cost of such disorders was estimated in 2007 to be $247 billion” (National Academy of Sciences, 2009).

  • Older Adults.  Older adults are at increased risk for mental health disorders, including depression and suicide.  It is estimated that 20% of older adults experience some type of mental health concern (American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2008).  Unfortunately, these disorders often co-occur with physical illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes, and are often undetected and untreated (NIMH, 2006).  Moreover, 7% of people ages 50 and older experience serious psychological distress—of these, 56% do not receive treatment (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008).

  • Minority Persons. Studies show that minority persons are at just as much risk for mental illness as their white counterparts but receive substantially less treatment (Psychiatric Services, 2008). For people diagnosed with depression, 69% of Asians, 64% of Latinos, and 59% of African Americans do not access mental health treatment—compared with 40% of non-Latino whites. These minority populations cite difficulty accessing care and anticipation of low quality care as reasons for not getting the care they need. Further, compared with whites, African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes, and are substantially more likely to have heart disease and/or die of stroke (DHHS, 2005). 

  • Rural Residents.  Data obtained by the National Health Interview Survey found that the prevalence of major depression was significantly higher among rural (6.11%) than among urban (5.16%) populations (South Carolina Rural Health Research Center, 2005). According to the National Rural Health Association (2009), rural residents have higher rates of chronic illnesses than people in other geographic areas, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic bronchitis, stroke and arthritis—all of which require lifestyle changes.

  • Disaster Victims.  In areas that were significantly impacted by Hurricane Katrina, 25% to 30% of the population may have clinically significant mental health needs, and up to 500,000 people may be in need of assistance.  Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, grief, and anger are to be expected among some who survived the hurricanes, as well as physical health and behavior problems, such as substance abuse disorders among adults and conduct problems among children (DHHS, 2005).

  • Veterans.  Thousands of returning military personnel are struggling with mental health issues, the number of which is steadily increasing due to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These problems include PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, substance abuse, and social withdrawal.  However, less than 25% of veterans currently use VA services (, January 2009).

  • Unemployed Persons.  The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate in the country is over 9% and remains the highest in decades (June 2010). Unemployed Americans are four times more likely than those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness, including major depression (Mental Health America, October 2009).  Joblessness also results in anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and substance abuse (SAMHSA, 2010).  In fact, unemployed people are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than employed people (NAMH, October 2009).