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From The President's Perspective
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By Karen Langer, LMHC
AMHCA President, 2012–2013

After National Disaster and Mass Shootings, Sometimes the Attention on Mental Health Issues Fosters Stigma

Whenever a national crisis occurs, such as Superstorm Sandy in late October last year, or the recent multiple mass shootings earlier this year, have you noticed that that the public and the press are eager to have mental health professionals around to help the community? They also want us to call for better identification of the mentally ill and better access to care. 

This strikes me as an interesting dichotomy. Situations like these bring mental illness and mental healthcare into the forefront of public awareness, and at the same time—particularly when the event is violent—all the attention may actually end up fostering stigma about mental illness. One of our challenges as an association is to make sure mental healthcare is at the forefront of the discussions, even after the shock and outrage fade in the public’s mind. 

We need to keep the focus on reducing stigma and remind the public that approximately a quarter of Americans need mental healthcare at some point in their lives, and the vast majority of these people are not violent. In addition, we need to keep the focus on the lack of funding and access to care as well as the importance of not going backwards to the practice of allowing indiscriminate, involuntary holds and hospitalizations, while also allowing for the creation of beds when they are needed. 

Can we as a profession take this as an opportunity to remind the public and policymakers that mental healthcare may actually reduce other medical costs, but that counselors can’t ‘fix’ people or easily predict these horrific events? Can we use this period of public awareness as a reminder to advocate for our clients and our profession?

Keep the Feedback Coming! AMHCA’s Board Listens

With all the recent attention around healthcare reform, Tricare, Medicare, and the federal budget, AMHCA’s board has gotten a lot of feedback, as well as ideas, from members about how we can and should approach these issues. 

Keep the ideas coming! Know that we are all doing our best to stay true to the mission of the association and the role of board, while seeing the big picture and still thinking outside the “it’s always been done this way” box. Even though sometimes that’s tough, you can count on us to do our best.

Many of those calls and emails are from members who want to know “why haven’t we done more” to get seasoned clinicians grandfathered under Tricare. Some have demanded that Congress require exceptions to the current DOD recommendations. Others want to know why AMHCA doesn’t just start a PAC the way other groups do. On the surface and in principle, these are good ideas, and yet, as a board responsible for the running of the organization, we have to look at the big picture from all angles, be the voice for the entire membership, and stick around for the long haul. 

Many of you hear from Jim Finley, AMHCA’s associate executive director and director of public policy, about the importance of growing the membership and grassroots efforts instead of a PAC. At first, this may seem counterintuitive since money does seem to talk, but that strategy is more complicated than many of us realize and it can actually backfire without huge pots of money to work with. 

Please pay attention to those legislative alerts Jim sends out and be ready to take action when the call comes. 

As a profession, we are relatively young and still struggling with our identity. To be called to the table we must have a clear voice, and to have a clear voice, we need to understand who we are. In addition, we need a willingness to look forward, compromise to be included, and accept decisions and ask for exceptions rather than dig in our heels and be left out completely. 

Keeping in mind that CACREP accreditation is the new standard, we will continue to collaborate with CACREP to get programs accredited, give feedback on standards revisions, and continue to work with the Department of Defense to allow exceptions for those who are experienced and already licensed. And of course we will continue to push for inclusion of mental health counselors under Medicare. 

We ask for your continued support and that you join us in the efforts to advance the profession we share.