State Leadership Conference

Psychologists' community involvement is essential to ensuring that their perspectives are heard by the public, said Judy DeVito, PhD, executive director of the Maryland Psychological Association and chair-elect of the Council of Executives of State and Provincial Psychological Associations, at a 2006 State Leadership Conference (SLC) plenary session.

The plenary session dealt with SLC's theme of "Psychology and communities: Advancing health, building resilience and changing behavior."

Artful education

To emphasize her point, DeVito pointed to the Kentucky Psychological Association (KPA) Foundation-sponsored "Heads Up Kentucky! Psychology Promotes Healthy Living" public health education campaign.

During the campaign, pedestrians roaming the streets of downtown Louisville, Ky., encountered one of the campaign's 41 three-foot fiberglass heads on nearly every other corner.

Each was uniquely adorned, with one decorated to look like Mr. Potato Head and one covered in crossword puzzles. Each was also mounted on a four-foot pedestal featuring information on psychological health issues such as obesity or stress management. The campaign not only helped KPA generate media buzz with coverage in local newspapers like the The Courier-Journal, it also sparked a public dialogue about psychological issues, said KPA Executive Director Nancy Gordon Moore, PhD.

"Pairing public information with public art-big public art-helped alter our relationship with the community in a big way," she said, adding that in addition to the public art project, KPA distributed brochures on 21 psychology-related topics, such as insomnia, to help visitors understand the connection between physical and mental health.

Community strength through mental health access

Other presenters at the SLC session highlighted efforts in their own states to raise the public's awareness of psychology.

For example, when psychologist Jennifer Kelly, PhD, graduated from Leadership Atlanta-a program that seeks to identify, develop and foster community leaders in the Atlanta metropolitan area-she saw an opportunity to give a presentation during subsequent Leadership Atlanta programs to highlight the link between physical and mental health for leaders in the Atlanta community.

As a result, more than 70 community leaders have learned how increasing people's access to mental health care can enhance and strengthen the Atlanta metropolitan area, Kelly said. In turn, the leaders can use the information within their own work in fields as far-ranging as theater, law and telecommunications, she said.

Also at the session, psychologist Kenneth Kessler, PhD, the mayor of Mundelein, Ill., outlined how he has used his psychology background to create an "open government" that empowers residents and enhances their stake in the community. For instance, he led a movement to broadcast the village's Board of Trustees meetings on cable so that residents can tune into the proceedings. He also crafted a law that requires all new ordinances or amendments to be posted for at least two weeks at Village Hall before being brought forward for a vote. That delay gives residents time to consider the ordinance and provide comments to their elected officials.

"[Open government] allows residents to make sure that we get our business done," he said.