By Jay Reeve, CEO, Apalachee Center
(Q) What are the biggest challenges in your role?
Dealing with misunderstanding and prejudice towards folks living with serious mental illness. Even after decades of very clear research, there’s still a public perception that brain illnesses are different in nature than other genetically-based, environmentally influenced illnesses that occur below the neck. After 34 years in this field, I am more convinced every year that the root of many of our biggest challenges as a healthcare specialty is prejudice – or stigma, as it’s often called. From lack of funding to excessive bureaucratic burden, to well-meaning but ill-conceived treatment mandates, it all comes back to prejudice – even among folks who are committed to this field and think they are helping. The evidence base and empirical research behind the treatment of brain illnesses has come an enormously long way in the last 50 years, and the fact that we haven’t yet uniformly approached psychiatry, psychology and behavioral health in a way analogous to oncology or cardiology is a function of the lag in science-to-practice brain medicine – and that’s both a consequence of prejudice, and a barrier to decreasing it.
(Q) What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I have the extraordinary privilege of being able to talk every day with people who are in recovery from serious brain illness (who are generally not neurotypical). These are the most creative, interesting and courageous people I’ve ever met. Since I started, I have felt as if this work carries with it an amazing gift for those of us who are called to it – who wouldn’t want to spend every day with the most interesting people in the world?
(Q) What is your hope for the future of health care in Florida?
I have great hope for the future of health care in Florida. We are living in a state where the First Lady and the Secretary of the Agency for Healthcare Administration have named brain health as their priority area of interest, and where public interest in this field grows every year. Our challenge is to ensure that folks with content expertise and lived experience in the identification and treatment of these illnesses inform and guide public policy discussions in this area. That goes back to decreasing prejudice, and I’m very hopeful that is happening.
(Q) What are your favorite hobbies?
For most of my life I have been an avid runner, swimmer and all-around exercise fanatic, although I notice that I’m slowing down some as I get older! I still usually run, swim, lift weights and/or do yoga twice a day. Since moving to Tallahassee 14 years ago, I also hunt quail a few times every winter.