UTHSC’s Altha Stewart Becomes First African-American President of the American Psychiatric Association

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UTHSC’s Dr. Altha Stewart took office as president of the American Psychiatric Association Wednesday pledging to encourage the organization to be more active in social issues affecting mental health. (Photo by Rouse Photography Group)

Memphian Altha Stewart, MD, took office as president of the American Psychiatric Association at the close of the APA’s 2018 annual meeting May 9, vowing to promote collaboration among members and across medical specialties, increase mentoring and leadership opportunities for the next generation in the profession, and improve access to mental health care for all.

An associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Dr. Stewart is the first African American to lead the more than 37,000-member organization since its founding in 1844. The APA sets policy, establishes practice guidelines, and represents the field of psychiatry nationally and internationally.

Dr. Stewart grew up in South Memphis, graduated from public and parochial schools in the city, and was among the first class of women admitted to what is now Christian Brothers University. She received her medical degree from Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, and did her residency at Hahnemann University Hospital there.

She is a nationally recognized expert in public sector and minority issues in mental health care, and in the effects of trauma and violence on children. She was recruited to UTHSC in 2015 to lead the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth, which aims to reduce the number of young people in the juvenile justice system by addressing the trauma and exposure to violence that contribute to the behavior that lands them there. She is also chief of Social and Community Psychiatry at UTHSC.

During a speech on May 6 at the opening session of the APA meeting in New York, Dr. Stewart spoke of her vision to expand the APA’s global reach, as well as her intention to encourage the association to address social issues and their impact on mental health.

“As your next president, I want to see the APA take a leading role on issues of diversity and inclusion in medicine and how discrimination and implicit bias affect the psychological and physical health of not only our patients, but our members,” she said.

Dr. Stewart has held many leadership positions in the APA. She also served as president of the Association of Women Psychiatrists and president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. She served a one-year term as president elect, and will serve a one-year term as APA president.