Welcome to a new academic year. As always, we can expect it to be full of challenges, accomplishments and next steps in our careers in psychology. When I sat down to write my first column as APAGS chair, I contemplated: What message do I want to convey? What are the key issues for us as psychology graduate students and emerging professionals? As my laundry list unfolded, I wrote and rewrote, replacing one issue with another, oscillating between feeling impassioned and frustrated.
Each issue I considered was but one piece of a larger systemic problem. Fresh out of graduate school and struggling to remove the blinders that are issued to each of us when we enter the academy (and held fast by heavy workloads, high stress, limited finances and social isolation), I had lost sight of the bigger picture. Consider the following:
Although the United States spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product on health care than does any other country, it ranks 37th in health-care performance (World Health Organization, 2000), and in 2001, 41.2 million Americans (almost 15 percent of the population) had no health insurance (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). More than one in five individuals experience a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), but despite the staggering prevalence of mental illness, almost two-thirds of these individuals do not seek treatment (Regier et al., 1993).
In other measures of our health-care system, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the nation's homeless population has a severe mental illness (Koegel, 1996), and although more than a quarter of a million inmates in US jails and prisons suffer from mental illness, more than 40 percent receive no treatment at all (US Department of Justice, 1999). Lack of public education, stigma perpetuated by the media and discriminatory practices by managed-care organizations are among the many barriers to effective mental health treatment in the United States.
As future psychologists, we have a right and a responsibility to address the causes of human suffering. If we maintain psychology's traditional myopic focus on the individual to the exclusion of social context, then we are not truly serving the best interests of our clients. As the Indian philosopher and spiritual leader Krishnamurti commented, "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
Psychologists need to be able not only to provide psychological services in a variety of settings and understand, utilize and contribute to the body of scientific literature, but also to function effectively in professional associations, engage in legislative advocacy on behalf of clients and the profession, and provide community service and public education. We are the leaders of tomorrow in both science and practice. As such, we have a responsibility to face challenges, seize opportunities and make our voices heard.
Collectively, our voices are strong, with an APAGS constituency of more than 50,000 members. Get involved. Become active in APAGS, join your state or provincial psychological association and APA divisions, stay informed and contact your congressional representatives regarding legislation that impacts our clients and our profession. Are you happy with the status quo? If not, what are you doing about it?
To get involved with APAGS, visit the APAGS Web site, or e-mail APAGS. Feel free to e-mail me at David Ballard.