Professor and Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management
Jointly Appointed to the Department of Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve increasingly been thinking not only of how to improve care for populations with serious mental illnesses within the formal care delivery system, but more broadly from the public health perspective on how to improve people’s lives in the community.”
Ben Druss was going through his residency in general medicine when he first became interested in public health, and more specifically, mental health. He was particularly intrigued by the population health aspects of general medicine, where mental health regularly surfaced as an urgent need. He did a psychiatry residency, which further exposed him to the systems challenges in providing adequate mental health care and the problems in the mental health system. Following his post-doctoral fellowship and a faculty appointment at Yale (where he also received his MPH), Druss moved to Rollins in 2003 to serve as one of the few psychiatrists in the country whose primary appointment is in a school of public health.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve increasingly been thinking not only of how to improve care for populations with serious mental illnesses within the formal care delivery system, but more broadly from the public health perspective on how to improve people’s lives in the community,” he says.
Under Druss’s leadership, Rollins established a Mental Health Certificate Program over a decade ago, which allows interested students to specialize their degrees and to gain additional training related to mental health.
“Mental disorders touch almost every part of the health system, and are important to public health more generally. That’s really the reason for developing the mental health certificate program,” he says. “It was to help students who might be interested in mental health to be able to concentrate on their work while at Rollins, to link them up with each other, with alumni, and with applied practice experiences.”
Druss’s spirit for advocacy and expertise has also made him a popular collaborator, both with Emory faculty and external organizations. He has worked closely with The Carter Center Mental Health program since arriving at Emory, and has served on the Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force and on the Advisory Board for the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism program, where he serves as a mentor for journalists reporting on mental health issues. He serves on the editorial boards of both JAMA Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry.
On the research front, the bulk of Druss’s work focuses on the poor physical health care of people with serious mental illness and seeks to understand why this population tends to die 15 to 25 years earlier than the general population. He looks not only at the epidemiological causes, but also at different types of interventions that might help promote health, including developing strategies for improving access to high quality medical services, as well as improving the self-management of medical conditions in this population. He was awarded the 2018 American Public Health Association’s Carl Taube Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Field of Mental Health in 2018 for this work.
Lately, much of his attention has gone toward directing the Southeast Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, developed thanks to a 5-year, $3.7 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The center, based within Rollins, is the only SAMHSA center to reside within a school of public health, encompasses eight states, and serves to, “support resource development and dissemination, training and technical assistance, and workforce development for the mental health field.”
Druss notes, “This SAMHSA project will help move research into practice by supporting the implementation of evidence-based mental health treatments across the Southeast United States.”