Guest Blog: SCPS Champions of Social Justice: Psychiatry in Marginalized Communities

As part of PRMS’ ongoing efforts to support the behavioral healthcare community and promote the organizations that work towards this mission, we are pleased to highlight the Southern California Psychiatric Society and its work developing a nine-part, short documentary series featuring psychiatrist members working in the field of minority mental health.

With the support of PRMS, the Southern California Psychiatric Society (SCPS) featured several of its members in a nine-part series of short documentaries, “Champions of Social Justice: Psychiatry in Marginalized Communities,” filmed in 2021 and 2022. Each featured psychiatrist provides a different perspective on their experiences working to support minority mental health. Learn more about these SCPS members and their stories through the excerpts below:

  1. The first in the series features Dr. Huey Merchant, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at Penny Lane Centers and Child and Family Guidance Center in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Merchant works with underserved, mostly Black and Latinx, patient populations where physicians and mental healthcare are few and far between. He emphasizes the importance of allowing patients to see a reflection of themselves in their providers – whether it be through race, gender or sexual orientation – and the need to continue working towards changing systems and policies to achieve equity, as well as to and provide access and education to recruit more people of color to the psychiatric field.
  1. In October 2021, SCPS introduced Dean and Vice-Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside - School of Medicine, Deborah Deas, MD, in the second documentary. Dr. Deas discusses the impact her family had on her decision to pursue a career in medicine and represent Black women, the alignment of her personal values and goals with those of UCR to serve Riverside students, and the importance of diversity and alignment to create a stronger, better community.
  1. The third short documentary, shared in November 2021, included Dr. PK Fonsworth, MBA, addiction psychiatrist at MLK Community Medical Group. Born in the Philippines, Dr. Fonsworth came to the U.S. at 10 years old, and today works at a community hospital in Los Angeles where many patients are facing marginalization and poverty. He recognizes how the underinvestment in these communities continues to catalyze crises, as well as limited access to treatment and diagnosis, and works to communicate the misunderstandings of professional mental healthcare and what it takes to live a rewarding and connected life.
  1. Roderick Shaner, MD, was featured in December 2021. Dr. Shaner is a clinical psychiatrist with extensive experience in the design and operation of public health systems, mental health crisis services, addiction treatment, clinical research, health policy, and direct clinical care. After starting his career in emergency psychiatry, Dr. Shaner ultimately became medical director for the department of mental health working to ensure standards and measures for clinical quality throughout the system. He speaks about how the Black Lives Matter movement has created opportunities to reexamine policies and psychiatry’s theories, practices, teachings, advocacy, and alliances that contribute to racism to determine what parts affect social justice and what needs to be changed as a result.
  1. On January 1, 2022, the fifth documentary highlighted the work of Kristen Ochoa, MD, MPH, the Medical Director for the L.A. County Office of Diversion & Reentry, Associate Clinical Professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, L.A. Superior Court Criminal Panelist, and forensic psychiatrist at L.A.'s Mental Health Court. As a lifelong activist, she shares how, on any given day in Los Angeles, nearly 7,000 people with mental disorders are in jail in L.A. County, and discusses the work she focuses on to support these individuals, mostly people of color, by providing clinical services and supportive housing.
  1. Dr. Torie Sepah, subject of the sixth documentary, runs her own interventional psychiatry clinic, which focuses on deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS), esketamine, MAT, reproductive psychiatry, neuropsychiatric disorders (TBI, dementia), and early diagnosis schizophrenia. She speaks about her interest in working in jails since residency to support and care for incarcerated individuals – one in three are known to have mental illness – who are often invisible to the outside world, as well as her efforts to provide care to individuals in need before they end up in jail systems.
  1. In the seventh documentary, Dr. Gary Tsai, the Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, a division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and board certified in both general adult psychiatry and addiction medicine, shares his story and his focus on equity versus equality – creating an environment and process where everyone has their fair share and the resources to be successful and support their own well-being.
  1. Episode eight of the documentary series features Danielle Chang, M.D., psychiatrist at Olive View Community Mental Health Urgent Care, UCLA Health Sciences Clinical Instructor for the Olive View Medical Center Psychiatry Residency Program, and psychiatric consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Re-entry. She emphasizes the importance of creating places that make mental healthcare easy and streamlined and what she enjoys about working in an urgent care environment to support a variety of patients, especially those who have never received mental healthcare before.
  1. The final episode, shared May 1, 2022, highlights the work of Dr. Gillian Friedman, board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine, Chief Medical Officer at Patton State Hospital in Southern California, and Chief of Staff at Patton State Hospital in California’s Department of State Hospitals system. To Dr. Friedman, equity means that in the improvements physicians try to make, it is important to listen as much as talk. If the workforce of providers is not diverse and representative of the patients, able to communicate with the patients in their languages, she believes the community cannot be served well.

The entire series of the nine documentaries can be found on the SCPS’ webpage here.


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