This May, The Jed Foundation (JED) is pleased to welcome Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MA, as Chief Medical Officer (CMO). Dr. Erickson-Schroth will be responsible for ensuring that the information that we source, use, and share is of the highest quality and in keeping with the most current evidence, based on effective clinical and public health practices.
We sat down with our incoming CMO to discuss her ambitions for this role.
1. What inspired you to work in the mental health space?
Growing up, I always knew I’d end up in a “helping” career of some kind. My mother was a lawyer representing people affected by intimate partner violence, and it inspired me to do something meaningful with my career. In college, I was fascinated by psychological theories and the biology of the brain; so by the time I headed to med school, I already knew I’d end up as a psychiatrist. What I didn’t know was that I’d fall in love with working with young people. My favorite thing is to see teens and young adults progress in their journeys toward being the people they want to be.
2. What do you hope to achieve in this new role?
I have a lot of aspirations for this role! I would love to see JED programs in every high school and college in the country in order to reach as many young people as we can. My department will be working to ensure that our programs remain up-to-date and evidence-based, and that they continue to address the needs of all youth, including those who are not always centered in youth programs, such as LGBTQ youth, disabled youth, and young people of color. In addition, as technology progresses, it is going to be extremely important to pay attention to how it is evolving and how it is affecting young people.
3. How will your experience in clinical practice help inform your approach to this role?
I’ve spent the last six years working in emergency rooms across New York City and with Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBTQ youth. These positions have given me firsthand knowledge of what young people are experiencing, especially through the pandemic—the ways in which they’re struggling, but also their strengths and resilience. My clinical work continues to teach me what young people need from us to grow into healthy, thriving adults.
4. Much of your career has focused on LGBTQ mental health. Do you see an opportunity to bring your expertise in supporting LGBTQ communities to JED?
Absolutely. I believe that we need to focus on equity for all young people who are marginalized, including LGBTQ youth, but also young people of color, disabled youth, and young people in immigrant families. We can do this by continuing to recruit staff who are representative of the communities we want to reach, connecting to schools with diverse student bodies, working with partner organizations that focus on equity, and using research as a tool to understand the needs of young people with many different lived experiences.
5. Amid a mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people have found themselves struggling to cope. How do you hope to help tackle this prevalent issue?
It’s true that young people are being deeply affected by this pandemic. They’re lonely and missing meaningful interactions at a time in their lives when they need it the most—when they’re forming their identities and exploring who they want to be. Technology has helped to bring young people together during this time, but, as we have seen with some social media platforms, technology also has the potential to do harm. There’s no substitute for in-person human connection and engagement. From my perspective, we need to be working from both sides: giving young people ways to interact online that build their mental health rather than hurt it, but also giving them more ways to connect in real life.