On Your Behalf

On Oct. 2, APA sent a letter to President Bush informing him of APA's policy of limiting psychologists' roles in certain unlawful detention settings where the human rights of detainees are violated, such as has occurred at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at CIA "black sites" around the world. (See the November Monitor for a report on APA's new policy.)

"The effect of this new policy is to prohibit psychologists from any involvement in interrogations or any other operational procedures at detention sites that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution or international law," wrote APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD. The roles of psychologists at such sites would now be limited to working directly for the people being detained, for an independent third party working to protect human rights, or to providing treatment to military personnel.

The new policy was voted on by APA members and is in the process of being implemented. For the past 20 years, APA policy has unequivocally condemned torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which can arise from interrogation procedures or confinement conditions. APA's previous policies had expressed grave concerns about settings where people are deprived of human rights and had offered support to psychologists who refused to work in such settings.

Noting that there have been credible reports of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees during Bush's presidency, APA called on the administration to investigate these alleged abuses. "We further call on you to establish policies and procedures to ensure the independent judicial review of these detentions and to afford the persons being detained all rights guaranteed to them under the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture," Kazdin wrote.

Similar letters were sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, as well as to the House and Senate Armed Services, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.


 
  • Thanks to the help of APA advocacy, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008, S. 2304. The law reauthorizes a Justice Department grant program to assist mentally ill adults and juveniles accused of nonviolent offenses. It also authorizes a new grant program to help law enforcement personnel respond appropriately to mentally ill offenders.

  • As a member of the Friends of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, APA co-sponsored the Oct. 8 congressional briefing "Alcoholism Isn't What It Used to Be: New Findings Foreshadow Shifts in Treatment Strategies." The speakers emphasized that heavy drinking and alcohol dependence are the third leading cause of preventable death and the second leading cause of disability among Americans age 18 to 44, yet only one in eight people with alcohol dependence seek specialty treatment. New research suggests that health professionals must expand their view of what constitutes "treatment," including where it occurs and who administers it. For example, nondependent drinkers respond well to brief motivational counseling, and many dependent drinkers can recover with medication and brief support from primary-care physicians.

  • In recognition of World Poverty Day (Oct. 17), APA sent a letter to the U.S. Senate calling attention to the magnitude of poverty worldwide and requesting more research to examine the impact poverty has on well-being and mental health. In 2007, 37 million Americans were living in poverty. Data from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that low-income individuals are two to five times more likely to suffer from diagnosable mental disorders than those of the highest socioeconomic group. Poverty also poses a significant obstacle to receiving much-needed help for mental health problems.

  • Due to APA's concerted advocacy, a bill to authorize appropriations for the Defense Department for FY 2009 was recently signed into law with a provision that authorizes generous recruitment and multi-year retention bonuses for military clinical and counseling psychologists. These special payments will help to recognize military psychologists for their service and further efforts to address the mental health needs of military personnel. The new law also designates psychologists and certain other mental health professionals as critically short wartime specialties.


APA member testifies at hearing on veterans suicide hotline

Faced with high suicide rates among veterans and active duty service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a suicide prevention hotline for veterans last year. To explore how well it's working, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing regarding the hotline in September.

Veterans access the hotline by pressing "1" after calling the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, explained Janet E. Kemp, RN, PhD, the VA's national suicide prevention coordinator. According to Kemp, the hotline is a success. It has already received 33,000 calls from veterans or their families, she said. More importantly, its use has led to more than 1,600 "rescues."

M. David Rudd, PhD, a veteran and suicide expert who chairs Texas Tech University's psychology department, testified on APA's behalf. He applauded the VA for implementing the hotline, calling it "an important and potentially life-saving program."

Rudd also offered some advice. Careful training and monitoring will be essential to ensuring the hotline's effectiveness, he said. Gathering answers to key clinical questions is also critical. Tracking usage isn't enough, Rudd emphasized. The VA must also track wait times for face-to-face appointments, subsequent emergency room visits, suicide attempts and suicides.

Rudd also urged the VA to consider how it integrates the hotline into its existing system of care, to coordinate care with community providers and to target prevention programs to the growing number of veterans enrolled in colleges and universities.

APA member Antonette Zeiss, PhD, deputy chief consultant in the VA's Office of Mental Health Services, affirmed the importance of the recommendations proposed by Rudd and provided a positive report of the VA's ongoing efforts to implement the suicide prevention hotline. "The hotline is a tremendous resource that has features unlike any other hotline in the world," she says. Zeiss went on to mention several key features of the hotline, including staff who are trained mental health professionals 'rather than volunteers' with access to electronic medical records of callers enrolled in the VA and the availability of suicide prevention coordinators in every VA facility who can help get callers into treatment. "We're committed to doing everything we can to help the hotline continue being a success."

For APA's guide to other government and nongovernmental mental health and related resources available to service members, veterans and their families, visit this Web page.

—R.A. Clay

Speaking out for the black community

Counseling psychologist, national television personality and APA member Robin L. Smith, PhD—a regular contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show"—wants black women to stop buying into the self-hatred sold to them through music videos and movies.

 

"If you feed someone garbage long enough, it starts not to look or smell so bad," Smith proclaimed to a standing-room-only crowd Sept. 26, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 39th Annual Legislative Conference. Instead, black women should fight back against stereotypes proliferated by the media by putting more effort into their own self-care and addressing what may be holding them back from embracing their full potential.

 

Participants in the four-day conference in Washington, D.C., included more than 18,000 elected officials, business and industry leaders, celebrities, reporters, and everyday Americans, who came together to discuss how financial, educational and health-care disparities have affected the black community.

 

Three other APA members—Sherry L. Turner, PhD, vice president for student affairs at Spelman College; Hope Hill, PhD, a psychology professor at Howard University; and Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, of the University of California, Santa Cruz— as well as APA's Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer Daniel E. Dawes, JD, spoke on topics including education, gun violence, mental health disparities and the sexualization of young black girls.

—A. Novotney