Feature

The APA Practice Directorate's public education campaign is kicking off "Mind/Body Health Month" this September with its release of materials to support the next phase of its effort to help psychologists convey the mind-body health message to a broad audience.

The initiative, Mind/Body Health: For a Healthy Mind and Body, Talk to a Psychologist, includes materials for psychologists in an online tool kit that emphasize the importance of mental health in everything from reducing workplace stress to preventing heart disease. Available at APA Practice, the tool kit includes:

  • Information and materials for participating in health fairs and other public education events.

  • Tips and strategies for dealing with the media.

  • The Practice Directorate's Fortune magazine supplement "A New Health Care Prescription," which makes the business case for attending to the whole employee and not just the physical aspects of their health. The supplement was published in Fortune in January and reprinted in the Monitor in April.

  • Useful statistics and data on mind-body health, like what percentage of doctor visits are stress-related and how lifestyle and behavior affect physical health.

  • Fact sheets on mind-body health topics such as stress, work stress, heart disease and obesity.

The initiative includes more materials than any previous public education campaign effort, says Helen Mitternight, assistant executive director of public relations in APA's Practice Directorate. So, rather than mailing materials, the directorate is posting them to its Web site as they are developed. The Web site will offer a complete set of tools available to psychologists working to educate their communities, Mitternight says.

"This new direction for the APA public education campaign reflects psychologists' unique role at the intersection of the psychological and the physical," Mitternight says. "The new campaign focus urges consumers to seek out psychologists and demonstrates the high cost of ignoring psychological health in favor of physical health."

An evolving message

Since the beginning of APA's public education campaign in 1996, focus group and poll results for both psychologists and the general population demonstrated that people understood the mind-body connection, even if they did not clearly understand psychology or its role in that connection, Mitternight says. However, focus groups tended to reject as too much of a "hard sell" any campaign message urging them to see a psychologist, so in 1998, APA responded with a message encouraging consumers to consult a mental health professional when they are unable to handle life's stressors on their own, she says. That first campaign, "Talk to Someone Who Can Help," reflected the public's understanding of mental health issues at the time.

But, says Mitternight, the time is right for a more targeted message about the benefits of mind-body health because the public's understanding of mental health has evolved as a result of several trends the Practice Directorate has picked up on through its polls:

  • The popular media have given extensive coverage to mind-body issues.

  • There are high levels of reported discontent with the existing health-care system's focus on physical illness.

  • The stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment has declined.

  • APA's polls continue to show public understanding of the link between the mind and the body.

"The campaign fits squarely with the Practice Directorate's current agenda," says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA executive director for professional practice. "Positioning psychologists as a key resource at the intersection of the psychological and the physical is critical at a time when policy-makers are beginning to look to the link between behavior and health as a key to developing a cost-effective health-care system."

High-quality resources

The strength of the new mind-body initiative lies both in that highly developed message and in the quality of the resources available to psychologists, says psychologist Nancy Molitor, PhD, assistant professor at Northwestern University Medical School and an independent practitioner who helped develop the toolkit.

"Everything you need is downloadable, so if you suddenly find yourself with the opportunity to speak to a community group, you can access helpful brochures and talking points immediately," Molitor says. "Having the toolkit online streamlines the whole process."

Furthermore, the materials offer strong and succinct messages for psychologists to offer their communities, Molitor adds. The campaign has responded to requests from psychologists for "meatier" information with more details about both physical and mental health issues, she says.

Public education campaign staff worked with a broad range of psychologists to develop the materials, including psychoanalysts, health psychologists and many other constituencies, Mitternight says.

"That vetting has paid off," Molitor says. "The materials are well-researched and user-friendly. I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from the psychologists already implementing the initiative in their communities."