Media Advisory/Press Release
U.S. Surgeon General—Keynote Commencement Speaker, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology
May 9, 2012–Boston (West Roxbury), MA–David Satcher, M.D., PhD, is the 16th Surgeon General of the United States who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1998-2002 while serving simultaneously as the Assistant Secretary for Health. He was the first Surgeon General to author a critically acclaimed, and controversial, report on the disparities in mental health in the United States. In keeping with the mission of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) in addressing disparities in mental health, Satcher will be keynote speaker at the Commencement of the School, June 3, where he will receive MSPP’s highest honor, the Doctor of Humane Letters for distinguished lifetime contributions of service, scholarship and professional work. In addition, while in Boston, Satcher will be a featured speaker at a “Disparities in Mental Healthcare Conference” on June 2, hosted by MSPP.
Two overarching themes run through “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General”--- the importance of information, policies and activities that reduce and eventually eliminate the cruel and unfair stigma attached to mental illness; and the importance of a solid research base for every mental health and mental illness intervention.
“Most people felt that had I been a psychiatrist, rather than a primary care physician, I never would have been able to pull off creating the Surgeon General mental health report because people would have thought it self-serving”, explained Satcher, who commented that the report grew in part out of his earlier connection with Tipper Gore, former wife of Vice President, Albert Gore, who had approached Satcher about the critical needs in mental health, especially of children. She herself had suffered from depression.
The issue of disparities in mental health was an important focus of the Clinton administration according to Satcher. More than half of those with mental health problems will not seek care, and among racial and ethnic groups there are major disparities in accessing mental health services. Some disparities relate to the stigma existing in their own communities.
Satcher states that African Americans are much less likely to seek outpatient treatment for mental health disorders, but that the stigma of mental health disorder is even greater among the Asian population. “Stigma is also related to religion and how people SEE mental disorder; for many years, people saw disorders in relation to demons and devils. It’s not easy to get past that, and more difficult in some communities than in others”, he says.
While the report relates to the American population, and in order to learn from other countries while developing the report, Satcher visited and gave speeches in Australia and New Zealand. He applauds the mental healthcare system in New Zealand, especially concerning the mental health treatment for their Maori people, which is 13 per cent of New Zealand’s population; in Australia, Satcher acknowledges their accomplishment with stigma issues as well as establishing a community-based system of mental health care. “In the United States, mental health disorders are more acceptable now, especially with greater public disclosure by well known celebrities including actress, Glenn Close, who is a major proponent of reducing stigma. Mental health disorders occur at all socio-economic levels” explains Satcher.
From a child born in rural Alabama before the civil rights era—and whose father had to walk several miles for a local black doctor to treat the family—now at age 71, Satcher’s great achievements and professional contributions include top leadership positions at medical colleges, a recipient of over 40 honorary degrees and numerous distinguished honors.
A key role of which he is very proud was Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administrator of the Toxic Substance and Disease Registry from 1993 to 1998. “The CDC was one of the greatest satisfactions of my career”, he says, “ we immunized 100 million children in one week in India, and now that the country is very close to eradicating polio, I like to think I was a small part of that”. Of his disappointments Satcher speaks of supporting research showing that guns were most dangerous to the people who owned them than they were in terms of protection. “We tried to get Congress to pass gun control legislation, but that was used against me when I was being considered for Surgeon General”, he said.
Although Satcher has had his share of disappointments trying to bring about policy changes, he insists that through disappointment you must persevere because sometimes success is down the road. “That’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to be in the business now of leadership development. The things I couldn’t do, these young people will”, he says, referring to his current position as Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute which was established in 2006 at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. Its mission is to develop a diverse group of public health leaders and influence policies toward the reduction and ultimate elimination of disparities in health.
According to Satcher, “I am currently involved in patient care through young people who want to be exposed to leadership development. But I know you can’t teach leadership only in a classroom, you have to get out there and be leaders in the community.”
About MSPP—Founded in 1974 as an independent graduate school of psychology, MSPP provides unique training programs for mental health professionals at the doctoral, master’s and certificate level, each designed to immerse students in both academic study and real-life clinical experience. Constantly assessing and evolving to meet the needs of the needs of a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse society, MSPP currently offers programs to train highly skilled professionals to care for Latinos, veterans, children and adolescents and families in a variety of settings, including the schools, the courts, the community and the workplace, among others.