Honoring the Work of Dr. King


A Message from Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods

"If you want to be important--wonderful. If you want to be recognized--wonderful. If you want to be great--wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness."

--Dr. Martin Luther King, February 4, 1968

As many of our students, faculty and staff participated in a day and even a weekend of service to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, I am sure many of us have been thinking about his words and perhaps about what it means to truly serve others.

Reflecting on my years at The Chicago School, first as a student, then as a faculty member, a dean, and now as president of this outstanding institution, I am very proud of our own community's commitment to the ideals of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke. Whether it is through our multicultural programs, our efforts to promote diversity within our institution and cultural sensitivity in our internal and external training, or the multitude of service learning projects and hundreds of thousands of hours, resources and financial support dedicated to these programs each year, our commitment to service has always been a foundation, and indeed part of the lifeblood of this institution. Our recent recognition by the Carnegie Foundation with its 2010 Engagement Classification is testament to our continued work and commitment to service and engagement.

Yet as the national Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service recognizes, there is much work to be done--and in fact our work is never done in the service of others. Particularly in light of the tragedies this country has faced over the past few weeks, I'd like to briefly discuss what I view as our responsibility as mental health professionals.

The stigma of mental illness and the increasingly limited access to appropriate mental health services in this country are a national travesty and a national tragedy. Sadly, it takes horrific events like school shootings and the recent rampage in Arizona to bring this monumental deficiency to the national forefront. I believe it is our duty to keep these issues in the national consciousness as we propose solutions to address them.

According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), about 10.6 million Americans are afflicted with serious mental illness, yet less than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year. NAMI's 2009 Report, Grading the States, indicated that many states are trying to improve systems and promote recovery, but are stymied by massive budget cuts and lack of critical data for decision-making. Adequate insurance coverage, community mental health services, culturally competent service delivery, and simple information on available services are sorely lacking. The economic cost alone of untreated mental illness in the United States is estimated to be $100 billion per year.

Moreover, stigma continues to be a significant obstacle to treatment of mental illness. According to NAMI, nearly two-thirds of all Americans with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. Our own Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute and organizations around the world are working hard to fight stigma--recognizing the tremendous cost in lives, in the development of communities, and to the dignity of human beings across the globe.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, our partners and affiliates have long been involved in the fight to end stigma and to make culturally sensitive, quality mental health services available to all who need them. We will continue to put our energy and resources behind this critical initiative. Not only will we continue to build on our programs to provide community mental health services, but particularly with the launch of our Washington, D.C. Campus, the leadership of Dr. Orlando Taylor, and the leadership and support of Dr. Michael Horowitz and Dr. Timothy Shannon, we will make our voices heard at the legislative level as well.

We can never know if tragedies like the one in Arizona would have occurred had the public been more educated about mental illness or had more treatment been available. How and when a person who does not want to seek treatment should be forced to do so is a complex and difficult question clearly implicating the balance between the public safety and civil rights. The debate about gun laws and whether and how an individual can easily purchase a semi-automatic weapon will continue to be discussed at the state and federal level. But one thing we do know is that even the most severe mental illnesses can be treated, most often with highly effective results. We must make these treatments available to all who seek them for themselves and for loved ones.

I encourage you to continue to advance the fight for mental health services. You might take a look at the recommendations offered by NAMI in its 2009 Report, keep abreast of the latest legislation and write your legislators, educate your friends and spread the word about the importance of mental health treatment. Or find the aspect of service that best suits you and go for it.

I will end as I started--in awe of all of our wonderful students, faculty, and staff and with gratitude for all you have done in service for others. You are, in Dr. King's words, the "definition of greatness," and you continue to inspire me.

In gratitude,

Dr. Michele Nealon-Woods, Psy.D., President
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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