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Mental Health Program Grad Brings Insight and Expertise to a Challenging Field

Editor's note: Since this was written, Stephanie has become Senior Program Manager at CalMHSA.

Who: Stephanie Welch, MSW, University of Southern California; BA, University of California, Davis

Current position: Program manager, California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an independent agency composed of member counties whose focus is the efficient delivery mental health programs, services, and educational programs throughout the state

An early advocate: 2005 recipient of the The Voice Award given by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in Recognition of Efforts to Reduce Mental Health Stigma; 2000 University of California, Davis Chancellor’s Award for Most Outstanding Undergraduate Research, Social Sciences Division: “Advocating for the De-Stigmatization of Mental Illness: Ideological Foundations, Framing Tactics, and Possibilities of Forging a ‘New’ Social Movement”

Q: How did the Mental Health Program at USC prepare you for your career?
Ms. Welch: There were several critical skills I gained, ranging from research and evaluation methods to using a “person in environment” approach to serving clients, families, and communities. I also appreciated, and today apply, skills gained in courses like financial management and grant-writing. I feel fortunate to have had such diverse courses and internships which reflected a mix of clinical and policy-based studies. As a Community Organizing, Planning and Administration concentration student who also participated in courses for the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) stipend program [since renamed the Mental Health Program], I had the opportunity to gain skills in both individual and systems problem-solving by gaining my MSW.

Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in mental health?
Ms. Welch: As a teen and young adult I endured some difficult mental health challenges. Part of my developmental and professional growth was to apply my skills in policy analysis and legislative advocacy and direct them towards improving a mental health system I knew from experience needed to better support people to seek recovery and wellness. This goal is exactly why I decided to pursue an MSW rather than any other graduate degree.

Today I feel incredibly passionate about and responsible for maximizing my daily opportunity to create and support programs and strategies that ensure that people with mental health challenges know that they can get help to attain quality services. Everything we do should support resilience, recovery, and wellness.

Q: Speaking from your experience in various mental health organizations, what do you think are some of the major challenges facing the field today?
Ms. Welch: Without question the biggest challenge facing the field is one of demonstrating performance and quality. With healthcare reform and the integration of services on the near horizon, social work must prove its effectiveness in creating healthy communities. Understanding how to collect and use data to evaluate the performance and quality of programs while articulating that accountability to policy-makers and clients is our responsibility. In doing so, I feel confident that social work’s approach to strengthening communities will be validated with resources so it can continue to improve, adapt to change, and support the development of new and effective approaches that are more relevant to meet the needs of underserved and unserved ethnic and cultural populations in California.

RELATED: Read other CalSWEC Graduate and Alumni Stories

More about Stephanie Welch:

Experience: Ms. Welch’s previous positions include associate director of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) for the California Mental Health Directors Association (CMHDA); consultant to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; associate director of Public Policy and Special Programs with the Mental Health Association in California, the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, and the California Coalition for Mental Health; and research and policy associate with the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.