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An Informative Q&A with Dr. Ben Maxwell on Mental Health

To kick off #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, Dr. Ben Maxwell, medical director of inpatient psychiatry and interim director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services at Rady Children’s, participated in San Diego Business Journal’s Healthcare Roundtable: An Informative Q&A With the Region’s Top Behavioral Health Professionals.

Click here to read the full San Diego Business Journal Healthcare Roundtable Q&A 

How is your organization addressing mental health in the community?
Over the past several years, Rady Children’s has established several behavioral health programs aimed at improving community access and early identification of mental health concerns. During
the pandemic, we opened the region’s first pediatric psychiatric emergency department, the Copley Psychiatric Emergency Department, for kids in psychiatric crisis. We continue to operate a busy inpatient psychiatric unit on our main campus focused on kids that are struggling with more severe behavioral health concerns. On the early identification and intervention side, we started embedding behavioral health expertise in community primary care clinics over the past couple of years. This program, which we call Transforming Mental Health, aims to catch issues early in children and adolescents and prevent the need for crisis-level services.

How have the options for treatment, such as video telehealth, changed as a result of COVID?
Like many organizations, COVID pushed us to pivot to telehealth quicker than we thought possible! For our behavioral health programs, telehealth has been an essential tool to not only maintain services to the community, but actually improve access and decrease “no show” rates. Moving forward, we believe telehealth will remain a major part of the way we deliver accessible care to our patients and families.

In addition to/other than medication and therapy, what can help a person with mental health struggles?
More and more, research is supporting the numerous lifestyle choices that can improve mental health conditions. Exercise and movement, healthy diet, social connection, time spent in the outdoors, meditation, breathing techniques, practicing gratitude, limiting screen time and time spent on social media, learning something new. The great thing about many of these activities is they are fun!

What are some critical changes that you think need to be made to the health care system to address mental health care?
It is hard to imagine how our mental health care system can improve without proper investment and support of programs that ensure all kids appropriate access to quality care. Too often in
the current environment, these behavioral health programs are not financially sustainable. We need payment reform to ensure this type of work can be sustained and available for years to come. And now is our golden opportunity. We see daily in the media the crisis we are facing, in emergency rooms nationwide, and we have leaders taking action. Whether that is California’s $4.4 billion Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, the U.S. Surgeon General’s call to action, or President Biden’s state of the union address highlighting that now is the time for change.

What is new or exciting on the horizon in mental health?
Here at Rady Children’s, we are excited to work with the County of San Diego to construct a behavioral health pavilion in Kearny Mesa. The pavilion will fill a major gap and help support families in the region by expanding the number of available inpatient beds and providing crisis stabilization for kids who are struggling with severe mental health concerns. We also look forward to forming more community partnerships focused on developing a system of care, and training clinicians to get kids and families the support they need.

Rady Children’s Hospital Innovating to Improve Mental and Behavioral Health
Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego is the largest children’s hospital on the West Coast, one of the nation’s top pediatric health care systems, and is leading the way in whole child health for children and adolescents in Southern California and beyond. Confronting the escalating pediatric mental health crisis, Rady Children’s is transforming mental health across the care continuum:

  • Early activation – prevention, early identification, and intervention
  • Academic foundation – evidence-based treatment, such as trauma-informed counseling, education, and
    cutting-edge research
  • Integration – mental health therapists embedded in the pediatric primary care offices with regional
    referral hubs
  • Crisis treatment – Copley Psychiatric Emergency Department and behavioral health urgent care facilities
    For more information, visit www.rchsd.org/tmh

Dr. Maxwell is the interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. He is also an assistant professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry. His interests are in general clinical care, education, mental health integration into primary care settings, and global mental health. He has collaborated with clinical programs in India, Spain, Ethiopia and Guatemala, and has presented on a wide range of mental health topics. Dr. Maxwell received his medical degree from the University of Texas in 2007, completed a general psychiatry residency at University of California – Irvine in 2010, and completed a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at UC San Diego in 2012. He has volunteered for numerous initiatives and programs, both in the United States and abroad, including the Ethiopian School Readiness Initiative, Addis Ababa University/Yekatit 12 Hospital, Amorrebieta Pediatric Clinic in Spain and the HOMES Clinic for the Homeless in Houston.