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  • Writer's pictureTammy Felker, RN, AIA

The more we talk about behavioral health, the better the outcomes

A Conversation with Dr. Delaney Ruston, Filmmaker, Speaker and Stanford-Trained Physician

Editor’s Note: The number of people reporting behavioral health issues is on the rise, a crisis often compounded by lower-than-average funding, a lack of psychiatric beds and high occupancy rates of behavioral health facilities. This week we are posting interviews with experts in behavioral health, following an NBBJ-hosted panel discussion, to learn how different parts of the country are addressing the crisis.

NBBJ: Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming documentary, Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, about children with anxiety?

Dr. Delaney Ruston: We live in a screen-saturated world, and we’re examining how this affects teens’ emotions and communication preferences. In our film, we speak with teens about their personal stories, and talk with parents as well as schools — about what they are doing and how they can better support our teens. The film also explores my daughter’s experience with depression and my role as a parent.

A key goal of our film is to help all teens develop and build skills to thrive with hard emotions, such as stress, clinical depression and anxiety. We’re also motivated to raise awareness, to increase the national discussion surrounding teens and mental health. There are lots of interactive interventions, but it can be complicated and painful for our teens (and parents, too).

We’re so excited that this film uncovers lots of different solutions to a troubling situation. It also ramps up the science that shows why the teenage years are such an emotionally complex time. Teens are not just moody — their brains are undergoing rapid physiological changes.

What are the most impactful changes that could be made to how behavioral health is handled in the United States?

The first is that we could revolutionize the system to fully appreciate the magnitude of solutions available, particularly people power — our support teams, teen peer groups, school psychologists, etc. From my personal standpoint, my father with schizophrenia bonded with his case workers in such a profound way. I think we need to further contemplate and build this task force. The power of positive, supportive relationships is fundamental.

The other is integrating medical and behavioral health into one. Behavioral health is complex, and for some conditions, like depression, we need lots of mental health and social services support. To strengthen the link between the two healthcare areas, while training professionals (and paying them a living wage) as well as community members and peers, would go a long way.

What is an innovative approach/treatment you — or another institution, city, state, country, etc. — are working on when it comes to behavioral health treatments?

As a Fulbright fellow, I made films in India. During my time there, I spoke with and filmed mental health workers across the country and examined their peer-training system. Globally, I think the peer movement needs more funding and resources, particularly targeting college-age groups and above as mentors.

Traditional behavioral health facilities are seen as socially isolating or unpleasant to the senses. How should the design of behavioral health facilities transform to better serve patients (and their families and visitors) and staff?

If the right presentation and program is offered through a medical setting, the community will come. Seattle has a “birds and the bees” program, where parents come with pre-teens to discuss the impacts of puberty. It is critical we create welcoming spaces for behavioral health discussions, programs, training interfaces and more.

What makes you hopeful when it comes to combating the behavioral health crisis?

People are so eager to talk about these issues — and adolescents are overall being raised in environments that are more open to talking about these topics. Thankfully, this cultural mindset of greater acceptance is pulling the cover off the silence around mental health issues. It only hurts the situation by not discussing it. By seeing positive stories and showing that talking more about behavioral health leads to better outcomes, we’ll continue to benefit, as a community, in our families, and as individuals.

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