Professional Point

APA's Council of Representatives in August approved continued funding for the Practice Directorate's public education campaign, "Talk to Someone Who Can Help." Importantly, the council directed that the $1 million a year in campaign resources be a regular line in the association's budget, rather than being funded by some type of "set-aside" or reserve fund. The council further directed that the ongoing campaign assessment be continued and reported to the Finance Committee and Council every three years.

A sustained effort

Resources to effectively continue the activities that began when the public education campaign was launched in 1996 of course are critical. Perhaps as important as the money, however, is the recognition that public education on behalf of psychology must be an ongoing and sustained effort. In my April 1999 column, I wrote, "Successful public education requires consistency and persistence not achieved by any single event or activity. It requires long-term commitment by organized psychology and grassroots involvement by all of us. Every psychologist must, in effect, become a spokesperson for psychology, armed with a consistent and focused set of messages."

The accumulating campaign activities are making good progress toward building the type of grassroots effort we originally envisioned. By July 2000, every state, four provinces, the Virgin Islands and a handful of practice divisions were involved in grassroots campaign activities. In fact, the Campaign Coordinator Network has achieved an organizational level that is beginning to rival the directorate's Federal Advocacy Coordinator Network.

The importance to the campaign's success of having built a grassroots infrastructure cannot be overemphasized. First, having a public education grassroots network in place around the country enables the orchestrated set of activities that systematically disseminates strategically developed messages to specifically selected, targeted audiences. Whether it is the mind-body, work stress and family-relations messages of the original phase of the campaign or the more recent warning signs of school violence message, it has been psychologists nationwide who have done a tremendous job in getting the word out. TV, radio and print ads have helped, but on a total budget of $1 million a year, the campaign is not and cannot be a traditional advertising campaign. A study of corporate advertising in 1998 found that the lowest amount spent on advertising among the top 100 advertisers that year was $223 million!

Second, the existence of a public education grassroots network has enabled opportunities that never would have been possible otherwise. While we engaged in 1997 and 1998 in an array of joint ventures with other organizations such as the American Heart Association and Borders Books, none was yet of the magnitude and visibility we wanted for psychology's message. Not until we began discussions with MTV in June 1998 did the size and type of joint venture we envisioned start to materialize. While MTV officials were no doubt impressed with the expertise and credibility APA could bring to an antiviolence campaign, it was our network of campaign coordinators and grassroots infrastructure that distinguished us from the literally dozens of organizations that regularly approach MTV with creative ideas.

The backbone of the "Warning Signs" component of the public education campaign has been psychologist-facilitated community forums. To date, there have been approximately 1,000 forums in 46 states, provinces and territories. Close to 100,000 teens and more than 25,000 adults have attended these forums to learn about violence and its warning signs, and to learn about psychology. All of this adds to the estimated four million individuals who viewed the APA-MTV "Warning Signs" documentary during its dozen or so airings on MTV.

Building on past successes

Most recently, the directorate's public education initiative has added a partnership with the White House's Mental Health Awareness Campaign and MTV to launch an antistigma campaign targeted to teens. Without a doubt, our ability to involve others effectively in this nationally visible campaign is a direct result of our experience and success with the "Warning Signs" grassroots effort. But more to the point, the opportunity to partner with Mrs. Gore and the White House is actually a direct result of the initial "Talk to Someone Who Can Help" materials developed in 1996 after extensive consumer research. These materials helped to build psychology's network, which led to a variety of joint ventures--including the partnership with MTV that in turn enabled us to engage in the White House antistigma campaign. Such a progression reflects the consistency, persistence and ongoing commitment required for successful public education by our profession.

Further Reading

Interested members can learn more about and become involved in the public education campaign by visiting the Practice section of APA's Web site at www.apa.org/practice and by calling the toll-free campaign information line, (800) 964-2000, to request a free campaign kit.