President's Column

In the wake of the recent tragic shootings in Tucson, APA supported the efforts of the Arizona Disaster Response Network (DRN), Arizona Psychological Association and American Red Cross as they provided assistance to survivors and their families, as well as to the larger community. APA also made materials widely available through its website, including:

Five Questions on the Tucson, Ariz., Shootings for Psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD” and “Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting”. In addition, the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) was invited by the Congressional Management Foundation to provide an expert to help develop a webinar for congressional staff managers on strengthening emotional well-being and personal safety in the aftermath of a disaster. DRN member Sandra G. Wartski, PsyD, was selected and admirably represented psychology.

The Tucson tragedy shed a spotlight on our nation’s mental health system and the need to redouble our efforts to prevent mental health problems, make effective services available and refer individuals to treatment when indicated. To achieve these goals, it is critical to overcome the stigma often associated with seeking mental health care. It is also vital to educate the public in ways to address the needs of individuals and communities in the aftermath of traumatic events. One tool for this purpose is Psychological First Aid, an evidence-informed modular approach to reduce initial distress and foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning. It is for use in diverse settings by a range of individuals, including first responders, health-care providers, school crisis response teams and the American Red Cross.

On a related front, APA is working with the Recovery to Practice initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency charged with improving the quality and availability of mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services. APA is developing a curriculum framework to train psychologists to provide recovery-focused behavioral health care to help individuals with mental disorders to achieve their full potential.

For decades, APA has been among the organizations leading the charge to improve our nation’s health-care system. APA and APAPO gained many successes in health-care reform, which were preceded by APAPO’s co-chairing the campaign to pass the Wellstone/Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This law is bringing protection from insurance discrimination to over 113 million people. We continue to work with policymakers to ensure that mental and behavioral health are prioritized equally with physical health and that systems of care are developed and adequately funded to meet the need for mental health care across the lifespan.

APA’s government relations activities focus largely on educating policymakers and advocating for change in our nation’s health-care system. In this regard, APA has worked closely with the co-chairs of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, Rep. Tim Murphy (R–Pa.), a clinical psychologist, and Rep. Grace Napolitano (D–Calif.) to support their leadership in inspiring their colleagues to promote mental health care.

APA will continue to advance the “Mental Health in Schools Act,” authored by Rep. Napolitano, which would provide grants and professional development to promote school-based prevention programs, reduce stigma, enhance students’ coping skills, and strengthen ties to community mental and behavioral health providers.

APA has also shown effective leadership in working with Congress to enhance the availability of mental and behavioral health services on college campuses through SAMHSA’s Campus Suicide Prevention program. First funded in 2004, this program has provided federal grants to college counseling centers for education and outreach related to suicide prevention and mental and behavioral health problems.

It is through these federal advocacy efforts, along with outreach to communities in crisis, where APA has demonstrated the best of what psychology has to offer in educating the public about the critical importance of investing in prevention, early identification and treatment to promote public health.