KeepHealthCare.ORG – Unioto grad to impact national mental health approach
Dr. Jared Skillings, a 1996 Unioto High School graduate, has been named chief of professional practice for the American Psychological Association, a national position that will allow him to impact how mental health issues are addressed in the United States.(Photo: Photo submitted)
CHILLICOTHE – Dr. Jared Skillings envisions a future in which access to mental health care truly meets high technology — and the 1996 Unioto High School graduate soon will be in a prime position to push the field in that direction.
“What we can potentially do is move the mental health system from making patients come to the office to having the office come to the patient,” Skillings said. “If you took your kids to a piano lesson, and you’re sitting waiting for your kid’s piano lesson to be done, and you’re out in the car waiting for the piano lesson (to end), you could have a half-hour session with your therapist on the phone while waiting for the end of the piano lesson, or something like that.”
Skillings will be pushing for more of that type of out-of-the-box thinking about the field when he assumes the national position of chief of professional practice for the American Psychological Association July 2. The job places the Ross County native in a position to oversee the future direction of several aspects of the psychology field, ranging from finding ways to reduce the stigma still often associated with mental health services to looking for new ways to form partnerships with social workers and others to make a positive impact on such things as the opioid epidemic and stopping the rash of school shootings.
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“Dr. Skillings possesses impressive management and practitioner credentials, as well as a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities, face by practicing psychologists,” said Arthur Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “He is dynamic, visionary and innovative and brings a record of clinical excellence, integrity and deep appreciation for diversity, educational standards, and science.”
Giving the present state of mental health care a “D-plus” grade, Skillings said there are several obstacles to overcome. While progress has been made through parody laws that lifted caps on the number of mental health sessions insurance companies would cover, the field still faces issues with poor Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates that Skillings said limit access to services among the elderly, poor or those on disability. Additionally, he feels mental health services still suffer from a stigma that keeps some people from seeking assistance.
Solving the latter problem will require a shift in thinking to treat mental health issues like any other illness, as a medical problem that is not the fault of the person they are impacting.
The issues also are not helped by a large number of unqualified people dispensing mental health advice through internet sites and social media, Skillings said, which serve only to keep people from pursuing needed help. That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t see a potential benefit from the online world.
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“I’m very interested in trying to look at how can we use social media or technology to be able to get high-quality care to more people,” he said. “So many people have a cell phone, so we have these devices in our hands that are literally mini computers, so I think one of the things I’m going to be looking at really hard in my new job is what can we do to be able to leverage technology to take advantage of that to improve people’s awareness of mental health conditions and be able to seek treatment.
“We need to improve the access so that we actually have enough providers. Maybe we’re going to be doing a lot more digital interventions.”
Skillings grew up around the mental health profession, with his father, Ralph, still in private practice in the field in Chillicothe. The possibility of developing his career in the field, however, began to form when science teachers in the 10th and 11th grades had students write essays on topics of their choice and he, at the suggestion of his father, chose to research traits of intelligence and schizophrenia.
“Honestly, I was sort of hooked (at that point),” he said.
If he was hooked then, he was reeled in after getting his degree in psychology at Cedarville College and took a year to work at Lighthouse Youth Center in Bainbridge.
“That was my first actual job in psychology, working with those guys,” Skillings said. “It was fascinating to see how the different kids who had done some of these crimes thought differently, or how the upbringing and how that contributed to some of the chaos that had moved in and led to them acting out.”
After getting his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of Toledo, Skillings embarked on a career that has included leadership roles in both is professional work — his most recent being chief of psychology for Spectrum Health System in Grand Rapids, Michigan, since 2012 — and in professional associations, including his current role as president of the Michigan Psychological Association. In 2015, he became the first early career psychologist in the country to be triple board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology — in clinical psychology, clinical health psychology and behavioral and cognitive psychology.
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Away from the job itself, he and his wife of nearly 18 years, Julie, have become passionate advocates for adoption and the foster care system. Following six years of infertility issues that surprised the couple, they felt the calling to adopt. Now, they are the proud parents of a multicultural family that includes two nearly nine-year-old boys and two girls, ages 9 and 10, adopted from Haiti.
Having also served as foster parents, they are in the process of adopting a fifth child, a six-year-old girl, and Julie is an active leader in the adoption and foster care ministry through the couple’s church.
“I’m glad to be able to help improve their lives, but to be honest, it’s really changed ours as much or more now that they are around,” he said.
The family is now preparing for its next adventure through Skillings’ new position and a move to Washington, D.C.
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