Psychology has been concerned about education, health, families, the status of minorities, childhood mental health, social integration et al.  But every one of these areas has worsened.  Perhaps we should be more modest about our accomplishments.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 19, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Psychology Has Failed

Here are crucial examples:

Gun violence

The United States leads the world in gun violence - almost a million people have been shot in the past decade, more than 300,000 died.  Yet gun laws have been slackened in this time.

"We seem unable to take even the most modest steps to curb the horrific toll of gun violence in the United States." - Bob Herbert

New York Times: "Support for Gun Control has Dropped in Recent Years"; "A Clamor for Gun Limits, but Few Expect Real Changes ."

Education

2002 : Poor Marks For U.S. Education System; UN: S. Korea, Japan Top Best Schooling List; U.S. Near Bottom.

2010 : U.S. Falls in World Education Rankings: "This is an absolute wake-up call for America," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Students not learning much in college : Study, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," found that almost half the college students in the study did not learn much by the end of their second year in school.

Unmarried mothers

Share of unmarried births to all births by race: African-Americans = 72%; Hispanics = 53%. "Births to unmarried white mothers went from 1-in-6 births in 1990, to (likely) near 2-in-6 by 2010."

Obesity

Fox News : Americans will keep growing fatter until 42 percent of the nation is considered obese.

NationMaster :  America (by far) ranks first in obesity among nations.

Trust for America's Health : How Obesity Threatens America's Future.

Health care

The Commonwealth Fund : U.S. ranks last among seven countries on health system performance based on measures of quality, efficiency, access, equity, and healthy lives, despite having the most expensive health care system.

Healthcare Finance News : New House GOP leaders vow to repeal healthcare reform law.

African-Americans' position in society

Call for Change : "[T]he nation's young black males are in a state of crisis." Black males remain far behind their schoolmates in academic achievement and drop out of school twice as often as whites. In 2008, black males were imprisoned at a rate six-and-a-half times higher than white males. Black children are three times more likely to live in single-parent households than white children.

Children's mental health

Depression On The Rise In College Students : Researchers say severe mental illness is more common among college students than it was a decade ago, with most young people seeking treatment for depression and anxiety.

The number of children who receive a federal payment because of a severe mental illness rose from 16,200 in 1987 to 561,569 in 2007, a 35-fold increase.

"Major increase in children's psychiatric medication": Prescription medication use rose nearly 5 percent in children in 2009, four times higher than the growth in medication use in the general population. The drug categories showing the most significant growth among children include ADHD and antipsychotics.  ADHD drug use surged 9 percent; children's use was up, but the largest increase was among young adults 20-34.

Social polarization

Social unity may be the most important psychological aim for our society - for, without it (see gun violence, health care, and the status of African Americans). we stand no chance of solving our other problems.  For example , "the assertions from the two sides highlight their radically different views about the proper role of government and market forces in the health care system." It is a policy fight that is likely to rage for the next two years in Congress and to figure prominently in the 2012 presidential campaign.

"Though President Obama spoke to our desire for reconciliation, the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain so." - Paul Krugman

"Beneath all the other things that have contributed to polarization and the loss of civility, the most important is this: The roots of modesty have been carved away." - David Brooks

Perhaps the things we wish to change can't be changed - at least with the tools at our disposal, or in the absence of large-scale, but unregulatable, social changes.  In any case - per Brooks - we in psychology and psychiatry should be more modest.