January 17, 2013

American Psychological Association Applauds Provisions of White House Plan to Stem Gun Violence

Pledges to work with administration, Congress to implement

WASHINGTON—The American Psychological Association expressed strong support for key components of President Obama’s plan to protect American children and communities by reducing gun violence. APA singled out for praise the president’s specific proposals to:

  • increase access to mental health services;

  • identify and refer youth and young adults in need of mental health treatment;

  • train more psychologists and other mental health professionals;

  • end the freeze on gun violence research;

  • require criminal background checks for all gun sales; and

  • ensure that health insurance plans offer mental health benefits at parity.

"The recent gun violence tragedy in Connecticut spotlighted our nation’s mental health system and the need to redouble efforts to make effective services available and refer individuals to treatment when indicated," said APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD. "To achieve these goals, it is critical to overcome the stigma often associated with seeking mental health care."

APA endorses the provision to end the freeze on federal gun violence research. This ban has significantly hampered psychological scientists’ ability to systematically assess the risk of assault and other weapons to the public, and to determine the effectiveness of various preventive measures. APA supports increased federal funding for research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including attention to violence in media, to jump start this field after so many years of neglect.

APA commends the White House’s recognition that "the vast majority of Americans with mental illness are not violent…" Empirical research has shown that individuals with mental illness account for a very small percentage of violent crimes, including those involving guns. Yet many individuals with mental health problems do not receive the care they need due to stigma and the unavailability of care.

Making schools safer is also of paramount importance, according to APA. Psychological research has documented the corrosive effects of bullying. APA strongly supports measures to increase the number of psychologists and other mental health professionals in schools and communities to help create a positive school climate and reduce violence, including through serving on threat assessment and crisis intervention teams. It should be noted that a 2006 report by APA’s Zero Tolerance Task Force calls into question any widespread effort to place armed security officers in schools, by stating: "In the case of school security measures and school resource officers, there are simply insufficient published data to be able to evaluate the effects or effectiveness of such measures on school safety." The task force recommended that any such officers be required to have training in adolescent development.

Finally, APA strongly endorses the president’s call for mental health coverage at parity in private and public health insurance plans. APA advocated for many years to achieve mental health parity in health insurance coverage, which is mandated by the Affordable Care Act, and appreciates the administration’s commitment to ensure that statutory parity provisions are fully implemented. APA also urges the administration to encourage state health officers to classify Medicaid mental health services offered by psychologists as mandatory (rather than optional) services to increase access to care.

"We look forward to working with the administration and with Congress to ensure that these laudable efforts and other related federal initiatives to reduce gun-related violence are adequately funded and successfully implemented to safeguard our nation’s children and communities," Anderson said. 

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 137,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.