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Advocacy in Action

  • October 02, 2023
  • Diversity News and Updates
Craig Obey headshot

We are pleased to introduce a new section of the newsletter titled “Advocacy in Action” in support of the APA Board-Approved Recommendations on Strategic Planning that included “working to end disparities in mental health care” and “advocating for health equity and policies for undoing racism and discrimination within local, state, and federal government, and health professional organizations.”

According to Professor Daniel Dawes, author of The Political Determinants of Health, “for every single social determinant of health in this country whether it is health care, transportation, education, housing, and people's ability to access these opportunities there was a preceding legislative, legal, regulatory, or ordinance at the local level or other policy that basically resulted in these structural conditions that we find ourselves in.” Through this new section our goal is to bring to the forefront mental health equity legislation that you, our members, tirelessly advocate for, to end disparities and attain mental health equity for all.

For this quarter we start with a Q&A with APA’s Chief of the Division of Governance Relations (DGR), Craig Obey, and we applaud all the hard work DGR does in partnership with our members.

Advocacy in Action will highlight mental health equity legislation that our APA members should champion. Why is it important to focus on equity within mental health?

Promoting equity within mental health is a core component of APA’s mission and values and central to our advocacy efforts at both the state and federal level. Minority and underrepresented populations often suffer from poor mental health outcomes due to multiple factors, including limited access to high-quality mental health care services, cultural stigma surrounding mental health care, discrimination, and overall lack of awareness about mental health. 

While legislation alone will not be sufficient to mitigate the root causes of health inequity, including systemic racism, better policies can undoubtedly help. Promoting fair pay, quality education, transportation, nutrition, affordable housing, along with access to affordable, quality care, will ultimately lead to better health outcomes. Every day, our DGR team is working with our members to promote and advance policy aimed at those ends and to help ensure the profession is diverse and inclusive of a wide range of voices and viewpoints.  

What opportunities and challenges do you foresee for mental health equity in the next Congressional session?

The approaching presidential election year and polarized political environment will certainly impact the prospects for many legislative initiatives, including those focused on mental health equity. We are fighting potential cuts to important programs for underserved communities that we are working with congressional champions to reauthorize through the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health. We seeing some success with legislation focused on maternal mortality. In fact, APA recently led a briefing on Capitol Hill with Representatives Lauren Underwood and Robin Kelly entitled Maternal Mortality and the Mental Health Crisis. It focused on several legislative initiatives to confront the crisis. One of those bills, the bipartisan Preventing Maternal Deaths Reauthorization Act, has now passed committee to reauthorize Federal support for states to implement best practices in preventing maternal mortality and addressing health disparities.

You have served over five years as Chief of Government Relations. If you had to only highlight one of your team’s accomplishments toward advancing the profession of psychiatry and promoting the highest quality of care for patients and their families, what would you highlight and why?

That’s a tough question, but probably enactment of the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act, which APA drafted with our champions in Congress. That bipartisan federal legislation was the first major amendment to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and was based on state-level legislation we also drafted and have now enacted in many states. It jump started a more aggressive effort nationwide to ramp up enforcement to hold insurance plans accountable to the law and stop insurance discrimination against those with mental health and substance use disorders. And it was really the model for much of what we have done since—other APA initiatives like enacting legislation to fund grants to states for parity enforcement and for implementation of the Collaborative Care Model.

APA’s Federal Advocacy Conference is around the corner. Is there a teaser that you can share with our readers of what attendees can expect?

Yes, we have a great program planned this year for APA’s Federal Advocacy Conference, which is scheduled for October 16-17 in Washington, D.C. This is a great opportunity for APA members to hear from and meet some of our most important congressional champions, including some surprise guests. And they will have an opportunity to learn and hone their advocacy skills so they can make a genuine impact advocating for their profession and patients over the long term.

We’ll be advocating solutions around the workforce and access shortage, health equity, and integrated care. Mental health is a rare topic these days with strong bipartisan interest and those who come to D.C. to represent APA are going to have a great and enriching time making a real difference.

To learn more about how you can help visit and consider signing up today for APA’s Political Action Committee, Congressional Advocacy Network, and APA Advocacy Alerts. Advocacy can only work if APA members such as yourselves are involved.

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