Professor Kathleen Sexton-Radek of Elmhurst College’s Department of Psychology led a trio of Elmhurst students to New York City last month to participate in Psychology Day at the United Nations, organized annually since 2007 by the American Psychology Association and other professional organizations.
This year’s event, on April 30, featured addresses and discussions exploring the role of psychologists in realizing U.N. global health priorities.
The conference, titled “Reducing Health Inequalities Within and Among Countries: Psychology’s Contributions to the United Nations’ Post-2015 Global Agenda,” included remarks from U.N. ambassadors from El Salvador and the Pacific island nation of Palau. The keynote address was delivered by Brian Smedley, executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity, a coalition of policymakers, researchers and industry groups.
Conference participants noted that psychosocial aspects of health are often overlooked in responses to world health crises. They explored ways to integrate psychological science into the U.N.’s global health efforts. Among the initiatives discussed were programs in El Salvador that offer care for victims of political torture dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and outreach to newly arrived immigrants in Australia that aim to provide equitable access to immunizations and care for chronic diseases.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Megan Amdor, a junior psychology major from Chenoa, Illinois, who attended the conference. “To learn more about how one of the most important organizations in the world operates was amazing. The lecturers and expert panel did a wonderful job addressing the broad spectrum of [health] problems that could be improved in this country and other countries.”
In addition to attending the conference, the students toured the U.N. complex in Manhattan and learned about the organization’s history.
“Walking through the U.N. complex, it really strikes you that people come there with great hope from all over the world looking for solutions, aid, resolution to conflicts,” Sexton-Radek said. “You realize the gravity of what’s done there.”
According to the American Psychological Association, one of the aims of Psychology Day at the U.N. is “to introduce psychologists and psychology students to psychology’s current and potential involvement in U.N. activities and issues.”
Sexton-Radek said the conference gave her students a richer understanding of the impact they could make as psychologists.
“I think it helped students be more reflective about the directions and pathways open to them, about that what they think is important, about what they want to do,” she said. “It made them stretch a bit in their thinking.”