The snarled intersection of medicine, mental illness, and public policy is a health hazard, says Associate Professor Benjamin Druss, the first Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health.

“There’s a mismatch between how our health-care systems are structured,” says Druss, who came to Emory in December 2002 from Yale’s Department of Psychiatry and Public Health. “Depression and other mental illnesses in patients frequently go undiagnosed, particularly by primary-care physicians. The symptoms can be subtle and doctors don’t have as much time to get to know their patients anymore.”

But because so many more people visit their general practitioner instead of a psychiatrist or other specialist, it’s “a very important point of entry into the mental health system.” Ideally, Druss says, doctor’s offices and clinics should have a system in place to screen all patients for mental disorders and provide appropriate referral, treatment, and follow-up.

In his new position at the Rollins School of Public Health, Druss will study this and other mental health policy issues. “We want to bridge the gap between the world of research and the real world,” he says.

The Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health is the first such endowed chair at a school of public health in the nation. Part of the appeal, Druss said, was the chance to work closely with the Carter Center, which convenes leaders in various fields and concentrates its efforts on the disenfranchised here and abroad.

Rosalynn Carter, who founded the Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force, said, “Mental illnesses have been neglected for too long in the public health arena, and this will bring national recognition and attention to the promotion of mental health and the prevention of mental disabilities. We look forward to working with Dr. Druss.”

Druss, who is also a consultant to the Bush administration’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, has a medical degree from New York University and a master’s in public health from Yale. He has a joint appointment at Rollins, where he is an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, and the Department of Psychiatry.

“Primary care at its best involves seeing the big picture,” says Druss, “and feeling a sense of responsibility to be an overall advocate for the patient.”–M.J.L.



© 2003 Emory University