APA President-elect Altha Stewart addresses trauma at mental health forum in Washington, DC


Dr. Altha Stewart is the president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC


At a July 18 forum “The State of Mental Health Care: Challenges and Solutions” in Washington, DC, Dr. Altha Stewart, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, was the first speaker to raise the opioid crisis and quickly identified trauma as a root cause of the epidemic. Stewart assumes the presidency of the APA in May, becoming the first African-American and fourth consecutive woman to lead the 173 year-old organization.The State of Mental Health Care graphic

In response to the moderator’s request for ideas or programs to address mental health needs, Dr. Stewart described how the director of the Center for Addiction Science at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis (Dr. Daniel Sumrok) determines the level of trauma experienced by all of those who come into the center for treatment. She said we know that people who have experienced trauma early in childhood have challenges around mental illness, substance abuse, and chronic health problems in adulthood.

Daniel Sumrok, MD

Dr. Stewart described how everyone who comes into his (Sumrok’s) clinic for services is assessed for ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), finding that in the over 1,700 surveys completed, 99% of his patients show the development of substance abuse problems is related back to early childhood experiences.

“So we are looking at ways to incorporate trauma-informed care at the front end—looking at it as a preventive measure. And since I work with children, we are incorporating that into the children’s mental health assessment,” said Stewart. 

Both the work of Sumrok and Stewart are featured in the ACEs Too High article by Jane Stevens  “Addiction doc says: It’s not the drugs. It’s the ACEs—adverse childhood experiences.” This article, carried also on ACEs Connection, is approaching a million page views.

The Hill sponsored the event that featured Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ), member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Speakers addressed the progress that has been made in mental health through the passage of mental health parity and the Affordable Care Act, but noted areas where vast improvements are needed. These include reducing stigma, expanding treatment and prevention, and reducing the criminalization of mental health (i.e., diverting people in jails and prisons as well as emergency rooms into services). The entire forum was live streamed and archived. Stewart's brief comments (1.5 minutes) are attached.


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This may be a fitting adjunct to the 2013 Vermont Legislature's bill 762, requiring ALL Vermont health care providers to screen ALL Patients-regardless of age, for ACEs. Pediatrician George Till was the prime sponsor.

Kudos to the new APA leadership for this endeavor.