In the Public Interest

After presentations on Public Interest (PI) Directorate activities, I often have audience members tell me that they were quite surprised at the range of activities we are involved in. Even more gratifying are comments that they were proud to be part of an organization that does such important work for the well-being of all. For these reasons and in response to frequent questions about what we actually do in PI, I decided to use this and my next column to share this information with you.

For the well-being of all

One of the better-known aspects of PI's work are our efforts to increase diversity within the field and in APA, to expand understanding of the health needs (including mental health needs) of diverse populations, and to increase psychology's ability to address the needs of such groups.

This column will provide a snapshot of the activities of PI programs with missions to address specific diverse populations and related issues, such as ethnic-minority status, gender, age, (dis)ability status, sexual orientation and gender identification. Other directorate activities will be discussed in my next column.

An understanding of true diversity means taking into account the specific issues affecting any one, or combination of, these various groups, the impact of socioeconomic status, the impact of urban versus rural environments and other critical characteristics related to the way people live.

Focus: diverse populations

  • Minority provider recruitment. In 2000, only 8 percent of mental health providers were ethnic minorities, although minorities represented 31 percent of the U.S. population. The Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA) Developing Minority Biomedical Research Talent project has received nearly $4 million in federal grants for nearly 500 students in intensive research mentorships at 14 institutions. OEMA has administered 116 grants totaling $415,000 for innovative recruitment, retention and training programs for minority students and professionals. The Minority Fellowship Program provides support to nearly 100 students of color per year and has supported 1,293 students pursuing their doctoral degrees in psychology and neuroscience over the 32 years of its existence.

  • LGBT student health. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) students are five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to say they have missed school because of fear for their safety. The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office developed the Healthy Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students Project to prepare school personnel to address these concerns, to prevent health risks and to promote healthy outcomes among LGBT youth. The program is funded at $1.6 million over 5 years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Adolescent and School Health.

  • Training of students with disabilities. Up to 17 percent of all students attending higher education programs in the United States are identified as having a disability. The Disability Issues in Psychology Office is currently providing staff support to two new task forces, one to develop guidelines for assessment and training of persons with disabilities and another to explore training issues in psychological testing and assessment for graduate students with disabilities. The office is also working to develop informational resources to identify and address major barriers to training students with disabilities.

  • Gaps in women's care. More women die from heart attacks than any other cause. Unfortunately, health needs of women are often poorly understood, leading to poor health care. Women are also about twice as likely as men to experience a major depressive disorder in their lifetimes, and according to the World Health Organization, depression presents the greatest disease burden for women, as compared with other diseases. To address these disparities, the Women's Programs Office has convened three interdisciplinary women's health conferences and a major interdisciplinary summit on women and depression.

  • Elder mental health. Older adults have the highest suicide rate of any age group in the United States. The rate for older white men is six times that of the general population. The Office on Aging, working with the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, was successful in ensuring that mental health and geriatric work force issues ranked in the top 10 policy resolutions resulting from the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. The office also produced, with the American Bar Association, a handbook to assist judges and lawyers in assessing the capacity of older adult clients.

I invite you to join us in mobilizing psychology to challenge the long-held beliefs, systems, structures,priorities and practices that obstruct the contributions of so many to the well-being of all.