Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Hosts Event to Raise Program Awareness

With an eye toward raising awareness and needed funding for mental health programs, members of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and its volunteer Advisory Board recently came together to inform the community of the many resources and treatment programs available to them when dealing with mental health issues.

At the community outreach event, Lean In… on Mental Health, held recently at Sagamore, the Art Hotel in Miami Beach, health professionals shared information about the programs and services offered through the department, for what is often considered a silent topic in the community. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, and many are affected by more than one disorder at a time, impacting not only their health and sense of well-being, but also the lives of family and friends.

“Mental illness hurts down to every level. It hurts down to a person’s ability to think, to feel, hold a job, have a relationship. It is a tough go,” said Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Chief of Psychiatry at University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospitals, and Director of the Center on Aging.

Guests had the opportunity to meet and engage in one-on-one discussion with Dr. Nemeroff and members of his faculty who specialize in child psychiatry, eating disorders, schizophrenia, depression and mood disorders, substance abuse, geriatric psychiatry and Alzheimer’s.

“A region like South Florida deserves to have the absolute best care for patients with mental illnesses and psychiatry disorders, and you can be sure that Dr. Nemeroff and I will continue to bring the best expertise to this region,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth. “With Dr. Nemeroff and his amazing team, you can be sure you or someone you know will get the best care they can find in the U.S. and the world.”

One of the department’s goals is to establish a state-of-the-art day treatment center at University of Miami Hospital, where patients who have been recently discharged from the hospital can work on their recovery through group therapy and cutting-edge rehabilitation treatment modalities. Plans are already under discussion for the facility, which is essential to improving functional outcomes, especially for the young adults whose lives are interrupted in their prime by mental illness. The goal is to help these patients return to their families, jobs, or college through specialized and team-coordinated care.

Susan Racher, a member of the department’s Advisory Board who helped organize the event, said that dealing with a loved one’s mental illness is hard enough, but it is compounded by the fear and uncertainty of how to find help. “I’m optimistic that this gathering will help send two key messages: that we should talk about this openly as we would any disorder, and that the department is a powerhouse in helping people recover and regain their lives,” Racher said.

In addition to Racher, other event committee members included Edmi Cortes Torres, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Mary Demetree, Alyson Katz, Cori Lopez-Castro, Gayle Nemeroff, Grisell Ocariz, Tricia Rutsis and Jennifer Sazant.

Donna Bitterman Shepard is a new member of the Advisory Board. Her daughter, Jillian, has suffered periodically from depression for many years and also turned to the department’s expertise.

“They listen,” Jillian said. “They don’t just write prescriptions. They really do care and want to help. I love the rapport I have with everyone there.”

Thanks to their care and research, Bitterman Shepard says Dr. Nemeroff and his team had Jillian back on track before long and she is feeling well.

“Dr. Nemeroff has developed a team of rock stars and demands the highest level of care anywhere,” Bitterman Shepard said. “I want people to know what we have right here in our community. I want people to know we need funding because there is still such a huge stigma attached to mental illness and it is the last one to get funding. If everyone looks into their background, in their family, someone suffered somewhere along the line. I want the University of Miami to be the first place people think of for mental health care.”

Dr. Nemeroff said renewed attention on mental health will help provide awareness and funding that will improve the outcome for all patients.
“Through innovative clinical care, research and education, we can unlock the mysteries of these diseases and we can be part of the solution, both in providing care and developing new treatments,” he said.

The department is home to 262 full-time, voluntary and affiliated distinguished physicians. Together they have developed an array of specialized centers and clinics that provide state-of-the-art, quality behavioral health services and treatment to people of all ages, while also increasing awareness of mental and behavioral disorders, and educating the general population through community engagement programs.
The department leads Florida medical schools in NIH funding and oversees more than 280 inpatient beds in psychiatry, the most inpatient beds of any medical center in the nation.

With all that is being done, Dr. Nemeroff says South Florida is still an underserved area when it comes to the treatment of mental illness. His department is committed to making sure the community is well informed about their services and understands the critical need for funding for mental health programs locally and nationally.

For more information about the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and its programs, call 305-243-6400.

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