On Your Behalf

  • APA member Dan Anderson, PhD, found a receptive congressional audience for his studies of digital media and their effects on very young children: APA invited Anderson to present at the annual Coalition for National Science Funding Capitol Hill Exhibit and Reception in Washington, D.C., on April 14. Nine members of Congress and hundreds of congressional and federal agency staff spoke with Anderson about his National Science Foundation-supported research, which analyzes the ways in which TV, videos and other digital media — either aimed at children under age 2 or playing in the background in their homes — affect their cognitive development, forms of play, learning behaviors and engagement with parents. He has found that background, adult TV distracts toddlers during toy play and also reduces the quality of parent-child interactions. With respect to videos directed at infants and toddlers, he has found that very young children in most cases lack the ability to comprehend them compared with equivalent real-life situations.

  • APA celebrates the passage of a law to help postpartum depression sufferers: APA’s Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director of APA’s Public Interest Directorate, joined Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in applauding the passage of the MOTHERS Act on Capitol Hill in May. The legislation, passed as a part of health-care reform, increases research, education and outreach for new mothers and families who suffer from postpartum depression, which affects as many as one in seven women. APA was actively involved in drafting the Melanie Blocker Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act of 2001. Since that time, APA was instrumental in working with Congress and leading coalitions to pass the legislation. For more information, go to YouTube.

  • APA works to help juveniles with mental health challenges: In a joint statement for an April 10 congressional hearing on reforming the juvenile justice system, APA recommended changing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to address critical challenges related to mental health, such as the high need for services to prevent child-custody relinquishment by parents. APA submitted the statement with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health America, and the National Disability Rights Network. For more information, go to APA Statement on Reforming the Juvenile Justice System to Improve Children's Lives and Public Safety.

  • APA urges Congress to set aside more money for research: APA has sent funding requests to the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees for Fiscal Year 2011 for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. APA echoed the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding that $35 billion be appropriated for the National Institutes of Health, and of the Coalition for Health Funding that an increase of $9.3 billion over last year be appropriated for all the agencies of the U.S. Public Health Service. APA also requested $7 million for the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program in the Health Resources and Services Administration. Authorized in 2002, the GPE program has provided 70 grants to date, training more than 2,500 psychologists and other mental health professionals who in turn agree to work in underserved areas.

  • APA calls for psychological expertise in oversight of comparative effectiveness research. APA sent a letter to Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on April 21 urging him to include psychological expertise in the workings of the independent institute that will oversee comparative effectiveness research authorized by the health-care reform bill. The new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute will be overseen by a board of governors made up of individuals from several designated categories of expertise but without any explicit representation related to mental health or substance use disorders. APA will closely monitor the implementation process and will continue advocating to include psychological science as opportunities arise.

  • APA says psychology should be included in funding for electronic health records: APA co-signed a letter to Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Timothy Murphy (R-Pa.) supporting legislation that would allow clinical psychologists, social workers and certain mental health facilities to be eligible for funding to set up electronic health record systems under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Kennedy and Murphy introduced HR 5040, the Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010, to address the inequity in funding for electronic health records systems. The APA Practice Organization is working with Kennedy and Murphy to ensure the passage of this legislation this year. The letter was signed by 33 organizations.

  • APA continues its work to help people without homes
    APA hosted a congressional briefing on May 4 focused on psychology’s role in ending homelessness. Moderated by 2009 APA President James H. Bray, PhD, the presenters discussed the need to apply evidence-based research to end substance abuse among those without homes; address the housing and psychological needs of families with children; and find more comprehensive approaches to housing through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and Medicaid. 

APA urges Congress to take a larger view of children’s mental health

When it comes to children’s mental health, society can “pay now, or pay later,” said Tufts University psychologist Donald Wertlieb, PhD, at a May 3 Capitol Hill briefing. Research shows that when state and federal policymakers invest in prenatal education, affordable, quality child care, early social and emotional development, and evidence-based prevention and treatment, society saves money on special education and juvenile justice expenses later, he said.

Yet too few programs get the funding they need to address the pediatric mental health crisis, according to panelists at the briefing, hosted by the Society for Research in Child Development and APA.

According to a new report, “Healthy Development: A Summit on Young Children’s Mental Health,” and U.S. Public Health Service data, 20 percent of all U.S. children need mental health services, but only 20 percent of those children receive services because they aren’t available or easily accessible. Speaker Karen Saywitz, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, pointed out that these gaps exist despite the research showing, for example, that school-readiness and effective-parenting programs foster children’s development. It is also of concern that poverty, domestic violence and other stressors undermine children’s ability to learn. Fueling the crisis is a dearth of appropriate mental health providers for children and families, particularly those who are culturally competent. There is also too little research on promising practices, and systems that deliver services are fragmented, making it difficult for parents to meet their children’s physical and mental health needs.

The briefing highlighted the report of the SRCD/APA Summit on Young Children’s Mental Health held last year at the University of Denver. The summit brought together psychologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, economists, policymakers, parent and family advocates, and communication experts to identify the key points from research that would improve public understanding and public policy about young children’s mental health.

Summit Chair Mary Ann McCabe, PhD, of the George Washington University School of Medicine, urged briefing attendees to consider children’s mental health in discussions of all policy initiatives, from welfare reform, disaster response and health-care reform to school bullying, teacher preparation and childhood obesity.

“Children’s mental health should be addressed wherever children learn, play, live and grow,” she said. “It’s an investment in society’s future health and prosperity.”

—J. Chamberlin

Read the report, “Healthy Development: A Summit on Young Children’s Mental Health” (PDF, 1.1MB). 

More funding needed to treat and prevent addiction

There are 25 million Americans who meet the diagnostic criteria for drug addiction, yet the best addiction-fighting medicines currently available can only help a fraction of these people, said National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow, MD, at a May 11 Capitol Hill briefing, co-sponsored by APA.

Volkow urged Congress to “be aggressive and throw everything we have at the disease,” particularly toward developing medications for cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and inhalant addiction, for which no approved medicines exist.

Although there are effective medicines to treat nicotine, alcohol and opiate addiction — as well as promising studies suggesting it’s possible to vaccinate against drug addiction — it’s been difficult for researchers to spur further medication development.

It can be difficult to garner funding for drug addiction because the public frequently sees it as a moral failing, not a physiological one, she said. That stigma also prevents people from seeking treatment, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in developing medicines no one will buy, she said. That leaves medication development to federally funded researchers, and the money’s just not there for them to develop medication quickly and efficiently. Throw in the intense regulatory issues surrounding controlled substances — making it difficult to do clinical studies — and the ability to develop drugs to treat addiction is bleak.

“We have the knowledge,” Volkow said. “We don’t have the resources to bring these medications to development.”

Intervention programs to treat addiction also need more funding, said Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director A. Thomas McLellan, PhD. Research shows that adolescence is the at-risk period for addiction and that people who stay addiction-free by age 21 are less likely to develop an addiction later on.

Lack of access to care is also part of the problem, McLellan said. In the United States, there are only 12,000 centers that specialize in drug addictions. Interestingly, there are almost as many Starbucks, he said.

—M. Price