Bruce J Schwartz
Altha J Stewart
SAN FRANCISCO — In the opening session of the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, current President Altha J. Stewart, MD, reflected on her accomplishments over the last year, and President-elect Bruce J. Schwartz, MD, talked about his goals for the coming year.
Those who began the APA 175 years ago started with the principle that there was a more humane way to treat people with mental illness, which Stewart still sees as the “north star that should always guide us.”
“As psychiatrists, we recognize that we work with people,” she said during the opening session. “We are the specialists in medicine that actually consider the whole person, that is one of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the house of medicine.”
When discussing what she was most proud of over her tenure, Stewart said that APA was one of the first mental health organizations to actively engage in helping colleagues who were working on the southern U.S. border where families were being separated and to ensure the families impacted would receive evidence-based care. APA also increased its global efforts this year was by sharing information and support to international colleagues dealing with national disasters and tragic incidents. Stewart was also part of the APA’s delegation to the United Nations advocating for universal health coverage, where solutions for addressing the global health and mental health were discussed.
She also talked about the progress APA has made regarding diversity, equity and inclusion and that although electing the first female black president of the APA was “a great first step,” there’s more work to be done.
“I counted among my biggest accomplishments of the past year that there was a big explosion of people who were out there either presenting, writing or in some other way making sure that this issue of diversity, equity and inclusion was being addressed,” she said. “I hope I’m a real-world example of the importance of talking about and doing these things and how to do it. Let me say it publicly, so there is no misunderstanding: promoting diversity, equity and inclusion is everybody’s work, not just the work of our minority and underrepresented members. Everyone needs to be invested to keep our progress moving.”
For the future, Stewart added she’s excited for the role technology and digital medicine will play in terms of improving quality and access to care, as well as the impact of social determinants on mental health.
After his introduction, Schwartz also spoke about social determinants, opioids and the increasing suicide rate in the United States.
“Our society and government have fallen behind on much needed funding of mental health care, which I would argue are major contributors to these crises,” he said.
The number of inpatient psychiatric beds has dropped over the last several decades and the U.S. has about a third of the inpatient capacity to help our patients as they do in the European union, according to Schwartz. There’s a major shortage of treatment resources for serious mental illness among homeless and incarcerated communities.
During his tenure as president, Schwartz plans to focus on addressing the ability to access mental health care; advancing the knowledge of APA members so they can continue to provide the highest-quality care; and continuing to attack the stigma tied to mental illness.
“All of us in this room know there’s no health without mental health. The faster we get the government and insurance companies to recognize the truth of this, the faster we will make progress against stigma and discrimination,” he said. “We need to work with Congress to make sure we have the research funding to accomplish many of these goals. Policymakers need to hear it loud and clear: You’re seriously underfunding mental health research and our country and people are the worse for it.” – by Savannah Demko
Stewart A. Opening Session. Presented at: APA Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; San Francisco.
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.