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UTHSC News: Inaugural Chief Wellness Officer Aims to ‘Change the Culture’ Around Mental Health


Psychiatrist Jessi Gold knows firsthand how critical mental health counseling can be for students navigating the rough waters of higher education.

The inaugural chief wellness officer for the UT System and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Dr. Gold is transparent about the fact that she struggled with her own mental health during college at the University of Pennsylvania and sought help on campus.

“I went to a therapist at the university health center, and they said basically I was not sick enough to get help on campus,” she recalls. “It felt very confusing because it had taken me a very long time to decide to get help in the first place. I was using criteria most of my patients use, which is I was still doing well in school, so I was fine. But I wasn’t doing anything else, so I wasn’t fine.” Ultimately, she got therapy and started medication, however, her initial experience has always echoed in her mind and serves as a catalyst even today.

“Ever since that experience and then with my ultimate decision to go to medical school and into psychiatry, I always really wanted to find a way to help college students in particular,” she says. “I think if you have a good experience the first time you get mental health help, you’re young and you’ll go back and you’ll tell other people and then other people will go and tell their friends, because that’s the way that group is, they talk about everything. Passing on a positive experience goes a long way in changing the culture of shame and fear around mental health and in helping students feel like asking for help is a strength, which it is, not a weakness.”

Dr. Gold is a nationally recognized expert on student mental health and wellness, as well as health care worker mental health, burnout, and advocacy. She will also serve as a psychiatrist at University Health Services on UT Health Science Center’s Memphis campus, where initially she will see primarily students. This is a similar role to her previous position at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, where she was an outpatient psychiatrist seeing faculty, students, staff, and hospital employees.

Read more at our UTHSC news site.