Monthly Archives: January 2016

Penalizing the Poor and Homeless: Psychology’s Contribution


Image source: Flickr user ccozzaglia [Astrid Idlewild] on Flickr, under Creative Commons

By Maha Khalid (Program Coordinator, Office on Socioeconomic Status)

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” – Nelson Mandela

Communities across the country respond to poverty and homelessness with a variety of programs: food banks, emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing. However, despite these programs, there has been an emergence of class-based stigma, stereotyping, and discrimination, which has led to policies that penalize unavoidable aspects of poverty.

Historically marginalized and disenfranchised populations have been disproportionately affected by the lack of affordable, accessible, safe, and stable housing. Such oppressed groups include racial and ethnic minorities, refugees and immigrants, older adults, veterans, persons with disabilities (including mental illness), female-headed households with children, and unaccompanied youth — many of whom are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and/or aging out of foster care systems (Cochran, Stewart, Ginzler, & Cauce, 2002; Lehman & Cordray, 1993; Shinn, 2007; Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2009; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2009).

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has noted nationwide trends among states and cities that target the poor. For instance:

  • Individuals living in poverty who may have only committed a minor crime may be unable to keep up with the financial penalties, which can result in violating probation. Ultimately, these unaffordable fees can result in a vicious cycle of poverty and incarceration.
  • Children involved in the welfare system are disproportionately detained in the juvenile justice system, which is psychologically distressing and places youth at increased risk of subsequent delinquent activity.
  • Recent food sharing bans in cities across the United States have imposed fines and even jail time for the crime of disbursing of food to hungry and homeless individuals.

As such, National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in 2015 (November 14-22) focused on the decriminalization of homeless individuals. Psychological research and practice contains significant contributions to understanding the correlates and consequences of homelessness. Watch Susana A. Lopez, PhD, of the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, provide an overview of the current research on “Criminalizing Housing Status: Focus on Homeless Youth.” The presentation is available here.

Additionally, the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness was tasked with identifying and addressing the psychosocial factors and conditions associated with homelessness, and defining the role of psychologists in decriminalizing and ending homelessness. The report and its recommendations are available at

What do you think?  What do we need to do to better address the needs of homeless individuals in our communities?  Add your thoughts in the comment section.


Maha Khalid is the Program Coordinator of the Office on Socioeconomic Status and the Editor of the SES Indicator. She works to facilitate and promote psychology’s contribution to the understanding of SES and the lives and well-being of the poor. She received her bachelors in Psychology from the George Washington University.

Copyright 2015 American Psychological Association

Image source: Flickr user ccozzaglia [Astrid Idlewild] on Flickr, under Creative Commons

Filed under: Human Rights and Social Justice, Poverty and Socioeconomic Status, Public Policy Tagged: discrimination, homeless, homelessness, poverty, public policy

Are the Mentally Ill Being Unfairly Targeted by the FBI’s Gun List? The Mysterious Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Abilities, “Midlife Crisis Is Just a Myth.” In Case You Missed It– January 20th, 2016

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Welcome back to In Case You Missed It (our weekly roundup of articles touching on psychology, health, mental health and social justice issues from multiple news and commentary websites). This week, we address whether the mentally ill are being unfairly targeted by the FBI’s gun list, the mysterious link between autism and extraordinary abilities, and whether the midlife crisis is just a myth.

Are the mentally ill being unfairly targeted by the FBI’s gun list? The Washington Post

A new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes it clear that health agencies and medical facilities can report the names of certain people to the federal database without violating privacy laws.  Some advocates believe this unfairly targets the mentally ill, who are more often the victims, not perpetrators, of gun violence. The White House is also pushing to allow the Social Security Administration to share information with the FBI about individuals with mental health issues who are determined to be legally incompetent. Advocates worry that this proposal is overly broad.

The Mysterious Link between Autism and Extraordinary Abilities – The Atlantic

Doctors have noticed that some types of brain injury or dysfunction in the left hemisphere may be related to compensatory improvement in typically right-hemisphere functions. The brain may be redeploying its resources so that regions engaged for one purpose are recruited to take on more advanced tasks to compensate for damages in another area. San Diego psychologist Dr. Bernard Rimland noticed that savant skills, such as artistic expression or the ability to mentally manipulate three-dimensional (3-D) objects, were most frequently right-hemisphere faculties. Dr. Bruce Miller, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, believes enhanced perception may contribute to logical ability, which might explain the superior skill of some people with autism in solving complex logical puzzles.

“Midlife crisis is just a myth.” — Study – The Science Times

A team from the University of Alberta in Canada concluded that the midlife crisis is nothing other than a myth. This study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Developmental Psychology, presented data that showed participants registered a higher level of happiness at 40 than when they were 18. The level of happiness increased when the participants were between the ages 18 and early 30s, and some said their happiness were low when they get preoccupied with jobs. However, most achieved their maximum happiness after they got married and had better physical condition. Dr. Nancy Galambos pointed out that younger people may have a harder life than the older ones who already got their lives organized.

What do you think of these stories? What did we leave out?

Leave us a comment.

For more In Case, You Missed It,  go to our homepage and subscribe to our blog via RSS or email.

Moreover, don’t forget to follow us on social media:

You can follow APA Public Interest on Twitter – @APAPublicInt and Instagram – APAPubInt.

You can also follow APA on Twitter (@APA) and Facebook.

Make sure to also check out these APA publications:

Copyright 2015 American Psychological Association

Filed under: In Case You Missed It Tagged: discrimination, gun control, mental health, public policy

The Choice No Parent Should Have to Make: The Case for Paid Family Leave


Image source: Flickr user Laurinda on Flickr, under Creative Commons

By Sara Buckingham (PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology and Community & Applied Social Psychology at the University of Maryland,Baltimore County)

Like other American families, while Melissa and Rob eagerly anticipated the birth of their second child, they also had to decide how much time they could afford to take off work to care for their newborn. Physicians and psychologists recommend leave time of at least 6–8 weeks because:

  • Leave benefits children now and later in life. Leave increases the length of time a mother breastfeeds, which brings many benefitsnd is associated with lower rates of infant and child mortality. Having a parent at home during infancy is linked to better cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development, and fewer problem behaviors.
  • Leave benefits family relationships. Leave is associated with warmer parent-infant interactions, mothers better understanding child development, and fathers being more involved with their children – even after returning to work.
  • Leave benefits parents. Leave is linked to decreased maternal depression and anxiety, and parental mortality, and increased marriage satisfaction and fertility. Paid leave also benefits families financially by alleviating the expense of childcare (Gomby & Pei, 2009).

However, due to a lack of paid family leave, Rob took no leave and Melissa took only 3 weeks, returning to work well before her body had recovered and their infant was ready to be separated from his primary caregivers. Many American families cannot afford to take unpaid leave after the birth of a child. In fact, over one million American families face this choice annually: Roughly one in four American children are born into families who lack the assets to survive at the federal poverty level if the child’s provider(s) takes 3 months of unpaid leave (Wiedrich, Crawford, & Tivol, 2010). And many more struggle to make ends meet when they take off time to care for a loved one.

The U.S. is nearly unique in its failure to require paid family leave, as one of only two countries to not have any laws mandating paid family leave (Addati, Cassirer, & Gilchrist, 2014). The current Family and Medical Leave Act ensures that only employees of large businesses (i.e., those with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius) do not lose their jobs when they take time off to care for a newborn; however, employers are not required to pay workers during that time – and nearly 40% of U.S. workers receive no job-protected leave at all. Of a large survey of employers in 2008, only 1/2 offered partially paid leave for mothers, and less than 1/6 did so for fathers (Gomby & Pei, 2009). Lower income workers are even less likely to have access to paid leave (Phillips, 2004).

We can help parents, like Melissa and Rob, access family leave. Current proposed legislation, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S.786, H.R.1439) would provide workers up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off for their newborns or an elderly or disabled family member. This leave would be funded by very small payroll contributions from both employees and employers – so small that most workers in states that have implemented similar laws have reported not even noticing a change in their paychecks (Warner, 2012)!

So why haven’t we passed paid leave yet?  One argument often made to oppose paid family leave is that this will hurt business owners and the economy, but this does not appear to be the case. States and countries that have implemented similar policies have actually seen their economies grow (Deprez, 2015; Ruhm, 1998).

Let’s not make parents choose between caring for their infants and struggling to pay the bills, or falling into poverty. APA urges all members of Congress to co-sponsor and pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.

To participate in these and other APA public policy advocacy efforts, please join the APA Federal Action Network.


Addati, L., Cassirer, N., & Gilchrist, K. (2014). Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world. Retrieved from:—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_242615.pdf

Deprez, E. E. (2015). California shows how paid-leave law affects businesses: Not much. Bloomberg Politics. Retrieved from:

Gomby, D. S., & Pei, D. J. (2009). Newborn family leave: Effects on children, parents, and business. Retrieved from:

Phillips, K.R. (2004). Getting time off: Access to leave among working parents. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Ruhm, C. (1998). The economic consequences of parental leave mandates: Lessons from Europe. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 113, 285-317.

Warner, J. (2012). Family way: ‘The conflict’ and ‘the new feminist agenda’. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Wiedrich, K., Crawford, S., & Tivol, L. (2010). Assets & opportunity special report: The financial security of households with children. Retrieved from:

Image source: Flickr user Laurinda on Flickr, under Creative Commons


Sara Buckingham is a PhD candidate in both Clinical Psychology and Community & Applied Social Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is currently a graduate intern in the Public Interest Government Relations Office of the APA

Copyright 2015 American Psychological Association

Filed under: Children and Youth, Work, Work, Stress and Health Tagged: FAMILY Act, family leave, work

Psychology in the Public Interest

PI Leadership Council 2015 0050

“We do a good job of creating knowledge, but we’re not as effective in communicating and applying that knowledge,” said Executive Director Dr. Gwendolyn Puryear Keita at the November 2015 Public Interest Leadership Conference. Photo credit: Lloyd Wolf


Marilyn Charles, PhD, ABPP (Austen Riggs Center Staff Therapist and APA Division 39 President), has a great post up about her reflection on her recent attendance at the Public Interest Leadership Conference at APA in November 2015. We have cross-posted it below:

“Scientists learn a great deal that is of potential value to others but often find it difficult to communicate such knowledge to those who might benefit from it. Although psychoanalysts recognize the internal, unconscious forces at work in both individuals and groups that motivate actions we would not consciously choose, we have not been very effective in offering that information in accessible language. Psychoanalysis offers a useful lens through which to recognize how compellingly the safety and well-being of each of us depends on the safety and well-being of all, and to consider how we might better address the issues that divide us so that we might build towards peace through mutual understanding rather than further fomenting hostility and aggression”.

Read the rest of the blog post here


Filed under: Public Policy Tagged: APA, psychology

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions, Seeking the Gears of Our Inner Clock, The Real Victims of Victimhood and more- In Case You Missed It– January 8th, 2015

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Welcome back to In Case You Missed It (our weekly roundup of articles touching on psychology, health, mental health and social justice issues from multiple news and commentary websites). This week, we address how to keep your New Year’s resolutions, seeking the gears of our inner clock, the real victims of victimhood, and more.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions – Time Magazine

The New Year is a time when many people begin their resolutions, but according to psychologist Art Markman, if you want to succeed with your New Year’s resolutions, you have to start way before New Year’s Eve to get ready. The reason that people fail to accomplish most of their resolutions is that they don’t put in enough effort to allow them to succeed. Some other simple rules to follow to keep your resolutions this year are: Focus on positive goals rather than negative ones, make realistic plans, and make changes to your environment. People really can succeed with their New Year’s resolutions, they just need to plan ahead.

Seeking the Gears of Our Inner Clock– The New York Times

The body’s circadian clock influences our sleeping habits, body temperature, the production of hormones, and our thoughts and feelings. Psychologists have had people take cognitive tests at different times of day in order to measure some of its effects on the brain. Results of these testing have shown that, late morning turns out to be the best time to try doing tasks such as mental arithmetic while later in the afternoon is the time to attempt simpler tasks. Examining the brains of healthy people who had died suddenly, neuroscientist Huda Akil and colleagues found many genes that followed a consistent daily cycle, so consistent she could predict time of death to within an hour. Neuroscientist Colleen A. McClung did a study to examine the patterns of gene expression in the brains of young and old people and discovered genes that became active in daily cycles only in old age. Dr. McClung believes that “It looks like the brain might be trying to compensate by turning on an additional clock.” Switching on this backup clock may be a possible treatment to a range of circadian-related disorders.

The Real Victims of Victimhood – The New York Times

Are we becoming a culture of victimhood? In 2014 a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study concluded that there was a widespread political “motive attribution asymmetry,” in which both sides attributed their own group’s aggressive behavior to love, but the opposite side’s to hatred. Victimhood makes it more difficult to resolve political and social conflicts. Victimhood culture feeds on a mentality that every policy difference is a battle between good (us) and evil (them). Victimhood culture generally claims the right to say who is and is not allowed to speak to protect the sensibilities of its advocates. Leaders in victimhood culture treat people less as individuals and more as aggrieved masses.

APA Exclusive- Self-Esteem Gender Gap More Pronounced in Western Countries

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that self-esteem tended to increase from adolescence to adulthood, and that men at every age tended to have higher levels of self-esteem than women worldwide. When they broke the results down by country, they found that this self-esteem gender gap is more pronounced in Western industrialized countries. What surprised researchers was, despite cultural differences, the general trend across all the countries suggests that gender and age differences in self-esteem are not a Western idiosyncrasy, but can be observed in different cultures across the world. Lead author Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD commented that this finding “refines our understanding of how cultural forces may shape self-esteem, which, when worked out more fully, can help inform self-esteem theory and design interventions to promote or protect self-esteem.”

What do you think of these stories? What did we leave out?

Leave us a comment.

For more In Case, You Missed It,  go to our homepage and subscribe to our blog via RSS or email.

Moreover, don’t forget to follow us on social media:

You can follow APA Public Interest on Twitter – @APAPublicInt and Instagram – APAPubInt.

You can also follow APA on Twitter (@APA) and Facebook.

Make sure to also check out these APA publications:

Copyright 2015 American Psychological Association

Filed under: In Case You Missed It Tagged: mental health, public policy