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Aloha spirit warms psychiatric meeting

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In between all the presentations about serious psychiatric issues, attendees of the American Psychiatric Association’s 164th annual meeting have been struck by the warm reception they’ve received at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

"It is noticeably different to walk into a convention center and have people greet you and ask how to help you," said APA President Dr. Carol Bernstein. "We hold this convention every year, and it’s very striking and very rewarding to have this welcome in Hawaii."

With 10,000 psychiatric health professionals in town, the convention will be the second largest this year after November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, which will draw 20,000 attendees and the leaders of 21 APEC countries, including President Barack Obama.

While security will be vastly tighter around Waikiki in November, Jeff Akaka, president of the Hawaii Psychiatric Medical Association and medical director of the state Health Department’s Diamond Head Health Center, believes the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting shows that Hawaii is ready for APEC.

"This is an excellent start," Akaka said. "If the APEC people get treated anywhere near how I was treated by the convention center staff, we’re going to be in great shape."

Akaka was at the convention center yesterday on his way to a presentation on concussions and traumatic brain injuries among NFL players.

In all, the five days of the convention will include more than 600 researchers who will offer their findings, as well as 108 scientific and clinical reports.

There will be data on post-traumatic stress disorder among military members and their families; trauma and disasters; health care reform; advances in the treatment of depression; deep brain stimulation; and childhood disorders.

Issues specific to Hawaii include the effects of introducing Western diseases to the islands; the trauma from the attack on Pearl Harbor; and a forum titled "Kahoolawe: Healing a Violently Traumatized Culture."

Today’s presentations include a discussion on the increased use of psychiatric emergency departments by Hawaii’s senior population because of the nationwide inaccessibility to traditional health care.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, will present the convention’s convocation lecture today and discuss South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process.

Bernstein heard Tutu speak at the American College of Psychiatrists meeting in Florida 18 months ago and said Tutu’s message about the healing process in South Africa will resonate with the psychiatric specialists in Honolulu.

But a group of psychiatrists plans to protest Tutu’s lecture because of his stance on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The convention yesterday also was the site of a different protest by a group co-founded by the Church of Scientology.

The APA’s annual meeting has seen protests before, Bernstein said, but it hasn’t seen the kind of aloha shown so far in Honolulu.

"Everyone’s really, really happy and very excited," she said.

The meeting is expected to generate more than $47 million in state revenue and book more than 80,000 room nights.

And once it’s over, Bernstein plans to stay on Oahu and take some time to explore the island for the first time.

"I hear there’s great snorkeling," she said.

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