State Leadership Conference

In 1999, Connecticut became the first state to expand its partial mental health parity law--which provided insurance coverage for some mental health services at the same level as physical health coverage--to a comprehensive plan.

But Connecticut psychologists' vision of full mental health parity never may have been realized without the influential efforts of Sen. Kevin Sullivan, JD, president pro tempore of the state's Senate, according to the Connecticut Psychological Association (CPA), which nominated him for the second annual APA Practice Organization State Legislator of the Year Award.

At the 2004 State Leadership Conference, the Practice Organization presented Sullivan with the award to honor his key support in passing both the state's limited parity law in 1997 and the full parity law two years later.

"At every step of the long and tortuous legislative process, Sen. Sullivan was active in countering distortions, enlisting the support of key legislators and personally testifying on behalf of parity at legislative committee meetings," said APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Russ Newman, JD, PhD, quoting from Sullivan's nomination letter, written by CPA. Moreover, said Newman, the law's smooth sailing thus far can be attributed to the sound legislation and implementation plan developed under Sullivan's leadership.

Shining a light on mental illness

Sullivan was elected to the Connecticut Senate in 1986, chaired the General Assembly's Education Committee for eight years and was chosen in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003 as the Senate president pro tempore--the third highest office in state government.

"As the leader of our state Senate, I am fortunate in being able to pick and choose occasionally what it is that I would like to use that office to shine a light on," he said after accepting the award. "With a great deal of encouragement from [my wife] and a great deal of encouragement from the advocacy community in our state, it was my choice that mental health issues needed to have that shining light."

Although Sullivan expressed pleasure at his state's achievement on mental health parity, he emphasized that there is much work yet to be done--in Connecticut and elsewhere.

"Yes, we started with no parity, and then partial parity and have made our way to full parity that works," he explained. "But that still leaves out 50 percent of the insured lives in our state--because we've yet to succeed in persuading Congress and the president to finish the job....Full parity in Connecticut may be a beacon, but it only works when it leads here to Washington."

To persuade legislators to support such mental health legislation, Sullivan urged attendees to put a human face on mental illness by including people with mental illnesses and their families in advocacy efforts.

"Mental health issues are not the face of some stranger," he said. "They're the face of our family, the face of our friends, the face of our neighbors and sometimes even the face of ourselves."

Other honorees

The awards ceremony also included remarks by APA President Diane Halpern, PhD, and several guests of honor who are active in advocating for psychology at the state and provincial level:

  • Psychologist Joyce Beatty, PhD (D-Ohio), member of the Ohio House of Representatives.

  • Psychologist Ruth Balser, PhD (D-Mass.), member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

  • Psychologist Marie Bountrogianni, PhD, head of the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.

  • Psychologist Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Minn.), a member of the Minnesota Senate.

  • Psychologist Page Walley, PhD, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources and a former representative in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

  • Pat Gardner (D-Ga.), executive director of the Georgia Psychological Association and a member of the state's House of Representatives.