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January 2010

Steve Jewell, M.D.

Medical Director, Child Guidance and Family Solutions

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Dr. Steve Jewell

When Dr. Steve Jewell, a child psychiatrist in Akron, Ohio, entered medical school, he was not planning on becoming a psychiatrist.  My original plan was to become a pediatrician like TV’s Marcus Welby, M.D.   Dr. Welby got to know his patients and their families and followed them through the trials and tribulations of growing up—all while having fun and being successful,” Dr. Jewell said.  “I really enjoyed working with kids and had settled on pediatrics when I did my senior year rotations. My last rotation was child psychiatry and it was then that I came to the realization that this was the field I should be in if what was important to me was establishing meaningful, long term relationships with kids and their families.”

Dr. Jewell had his first experience with what he calls “professional” stigma when he shared the news of his plan to become a child psychiatrist with his mother.  Her response was, “But I thought you wanted to be a doctor!”

 “Such professional stigma still exists today,” Dr. Jewell explained.  “All of us in the field of psychiatry experience professional stigma at one time or another.  People in the mental health field are often viewed by the general public as somewhat less than full members of the medical professional.  Mental health in general is viewed as a soft science, and not real medicine.”


Dr. Jewell has also encountered what he refers to as “family” stigma. “Family stigma is when you have a child who has a serious psychiatric problem.  There is the sense that you and others have that you must have done something wrong…somehow contributed to causing your child’s illness,” he explained.  “I see this all the time in my practice, and I have experienced it first-hand.” 

When his own daughter began exhibiting signs of anxiety at age 8, Dr. Jewell and his wife attributed it to the effects of a new house and a new baby in the family—normal stress for the oldest child in a growing family, certainly not mental illness.  Fortunately, the anxiety passed.  A few years later, Dr. Jewell noticed that his daughter was “not herself” and talked to her about depression, but she denied having the feelings associated with depression.  “After a time, she came to me and revealed that she was having problems.  She had been cutting herself to relieve the pain she was experiencing.  At age 15, she was diagnosed with major depression.  My wife and I went through the experience of beating ourselves up over what we could have done differently, why we didn’t recognize the signs earlier.  Like many parents, our daughter’s depression developed right under our noses, and for a long time we didn’t see it,” Dr. Jewell recounted.

Stigma often interferes with families recognizing the illness and seeking help for their children…it is very difficult for families to make that first phone call. 

“Stigma often interferes with families recognizing the illness and seeking help for their children.  If people would get their child in to see a psychiatrist sooner, the outcome would be much better, but it is very difficult for families to make that first phone call.  There are a lot of people who think that when their child has a mental illness it is their fault and they come in to the office expecting to be blamed.  Mental health professionals need to anticipate this and address it head on.   It is not good enough just to avoid blaming them.”

Having a daughter with mental illness has helped shaped how he works with families in his own practice. “When my daughter was a teenager, we took her to see a highly respected psychiatrist.  Her first appointment was an hour and a half long.  The doctor came out to the waiting room, introduced himself, and took my daughter back into his office.  After an hour and fifteen minutes, he came out to get us.  He shared with us his diagnosis, the medication that he was prescribing, the fact that our daughter did not want to take the medication, and the time of her next appointment.  He never asked us about our fears, our concerns, or our observations.  This experience reinforced in me the importance of making the family a part of the treatment process and utilizing shared decision making.” 

Today, Dr. Jewell continues to practice as he dreamed he would.  He treats kids and their families, he follows them through their trials and tribulations, and he has earned the respect of family advocates because he listens, he cares and he does not judge. His daughter continues to struggle with the symptoms of her illness and the side effects of medication.  She has gone through a lot, having experienced many hospitalizations over an eighteen month period as recently as 2008.  Today, she is doing better and working on her recovery, a long and difficult journey.

Awareness NOW Campaign Kicked Off

This month, NAMI Ohio kicked off the Bob and Mary Spada Mental Illness Awareness NOW campaign.  The campaign is designed to increase understanding about mental illness among Ohioans by building on NAMI Ohio’s advocacy, education and support activities at the grassroots level.  The campaign involves deploying a cadre of individuals with mental illness to make presentations to civic organizations throughout Ohio.  The presentations will focus on:

  • providing information about the realities of and myths surrounding mental illness;

  • increasing the visibility of successful recoveries;

  • spreading the word about NAMI as a resource for education, support and advocacy; and

  • mobilizing communities to get involved.

“It is difficult enough to watch a loved one struggle with the pain of mental illness.  That pain is compounded when you witness the reaction by friends, employers and the community at large who don’t understand the illness.  Our hope is that through the Mental Illness Awareness NOW campaign, Ohioans will come to view mental illness as no different from any other chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease,” said Senator Spada.

Bob and Mary Spada became active in mental health advocacy after their son, James, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  At that time, Mr. Spada was serving in the Ohio Senate and made the decision, with his son’s approval, to be a spokesman on behalf of mental health insurance parity.  Because of Senator Spada’s leadership, and that of his colleague the House of Representatives Jon Peterson, S.B. 116, the Mental Health Insurance Parity Act was passed in 2006.  

“Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, thousands of Ohioans refuse to seek help when they experience the symptoms of a mental health disorder.  This can lead to tragic outcomes, including suicide,” said Jim Mauro, NAMI Ohio Executive Director.  “Stigma is also largely responsible for our inability to secure appropriate funding at the state and local level to treat mental illness.  We hope that this campaign will help call attention to the lack of access to mental health services in communities throughout Ohio.”

NAMI Ohio is grateful for the generosity of Senator and Mrs. Spada in providing a challenge grant which will help get this campaign off the ground.  Anyone interested in donating to the Bob and Mary Spada Mental Illness Awareness NOW campaign can contact NAMI Ohio at  One hundred percent of the funds donated will be used for this initiative. 

Stigma Busting Challenge: Baby, its cold outside! Too many people with mental illness are without permanent housing. Donate some warm clothing to a local homeless agency or group home.

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