Dec. 22, 2015

What would you say the “polio of our era” is?

Here’s a hint: It’s not a viral or bacterial affliction. 

It’s the looming crisis in children’s mental health. That’s the warning from Dr. Jay Fisher, head of pediatric ER at University Medical Center. Dr. Fisher expressed his concern in a May 2015 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

That’s scary in a state ranked worst for providing access to mental health care for youth. In fact, Southern Nevada has been historically underserved when it comes to mental health across the board. The state currently ranks 50th for number of psychiatrists per capita, and 47th for psychologists per capita.

However, UNLV is making big strides in addressing these needs through The PRACTICE, an accessible, on-campus mental health clinic. Short for Partnership for Research, Assessment, Counseling, Therapy and Innovative Clinical Education, The PRACTICE, which opened in 2012, is a collaboration between the Colleges of Education and Liberal Arts. 

A community mental health training clinic, The PRACTICE offers affordable mental health services to anyone in the community. It also is a training and research center for faculty and students from both colleges. 

The PRACTICE is addressing local mental health gaps by bringing in some of the best and brightest in the field, like postdoctoral scholars Jeremy Gallas and Jared Grant. The two came on board at The PRACTICE in August, thanks to fellowships funded by a gift from the Eleanor Kagi Foundation, a Lynn M. Bennett Legacy.

Gallas, who works mainly with children’s and women’s services, as well as family therapy, was sold on UNLV because of its diversity — along with the diversity of needs The PRACTICE is serving.

“I liked working in a college counseling center, but I missed the diversity of a community counseling center, working with kids and family. I’ve also done group work.  I see The PRACTICE as being a combination of all that,” he says. 

“I was unaware of how underserved the area is until I spoke with [The PRACTICE director] Dr. Michelle Paul. It’s really an added benefit to do the work I love in a place where it’s so needed.”

Grant primarily works with groups dealing with depression and anxiety. He was compelled to come to UNLV by The PRACTICE’s scope in the community.

“What really stood out to me is how committed The PRACTICE is to reaching the community. They see a need and really want to make a difference,” says Grant. “It really felt like something I needed to be a part of.”

The impact of individuals like Grant and Gallas could help shape The PRACTICE — and Southern Nevada — for a long time.

“There are a lot of postdoctoral jobs where you go in and everything is already done and established. You just learn how they do what they do,” Gallas says.

“What’s unique about this fellowship is that we get to be part of building something up.”