State Leadership Conference

At the State Leadership Conference closing banquet, Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for practice, and the Practice Organization honored an avid psychology supporter--Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)--with the APA Practice Directorate's Outstanding Leadership Award for his continuing mental health parity advocacy in Congress. "He is an effective champion for mental health parity," said Newman of Kennedy, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1995 when he was 27 years old.

In his award acceptance speech, Kennedy attributed his strength of conviction for causes such as mental health parity to advice from his father, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). "He said, 'If you support the causes of great leaders, you'll be great too. Why? Because they're great causes.

"You all know the story of the discrimination against mental illness," said Kennedy, who is one of the sponsors of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act. "It's one of the most blatant and unabashed types of discrimination. In this day and age, who could imagine that mental health parity wouldn't pass?"

Quoting Frederick Douglass, Kennedy urged the crowd to push hard for parity during their visits to Capitol Hill the next day. "Power concedes nothing without demand," he said. "This town only moves when it's pushed to move. Tell your representatives to pass parity. We need political will! This bill has been through the 'traps'--there should be no other 'ifs,' 'ands' or 'buts.' Be unforgiving and uncompromising tomorrow," he told attendees.

And, finally, he was met with more applause when he told the crowd, "You can tell your representatives that, if they're happy with their health care, then what's wrong with them extending the same care to all Americans?

"This is the year. By passing parity we take on stigma and discrimination and hit them right between the eyes!"

Kennedy's words echoed those spoken in the past by one of mental health's tireless advocates, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Attendees enjoyed a brief presentation during the banquet that paid homage to the senator. Psychologist Ellen Gerrity, PhD, who served as his senior mental health adviser, told the crowd, "He fought every single day, every single minute. He was a true patriot because he fought for those who needed it most." And after she shared a film that illustrated his career in Congress, teary-eyed attendees cheered when she said, "We can all strive to live up to what he did."

As it turned out, Gerrity was honored for doing just that. Newman surprised her with the APA Practice Organization's Distinguished Service Award, noting that her tenure with Wellstone was meant to be one year through a National Institute of Mental Health fellowship, but lasted more than five because "He kept requesting that she stay."

Maury Lacher, PhD, of New York, and Stewart Beasley, PhD, of Oklahoma, were also honored during the event for their outstanding work as federal advocacy coordinators.

The enthusiasm generated at the banquet obviously continued the next day during visits to Capitol Hill--psychologists won parity bill co-sponsorships from more than 40 senators and representatives.