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Champion for Good: Dr. Regina Miranda

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Dr. Regina Miranda is a professor of psychology at Hunter College, where she directs the Laboratory for the Study of Youth Cognition and Suicide, and she is also a faculty member in the doctoral program in health psychology and clinical science at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She cofounded and directs the Youth Suicide Research Consortium, which seeks to increase diversity in youth suicide research. As an advisor for the Ad Council’s Sound It Out campaign, Dr. Miranda is an expert voice that helps parents and caregivers have meaningful conversations about emotional wellbeing with their middle schoolers.

We talked to Dr. Miranda about adolescent mental health during COVID and what it’s like to be a part of our Sound It Out campaign that helps parents and caregivers talk to their kids about emotional wellbeing.

Sean Williams: Could you tell us about your work in psychology and mental wellbeing in adolescents, and why you were drawn to this work?

Dr. Regina Miranda: My research focuses on understanding what makes teenagers think about suicide and how to better assess if they are at risk of engaging in suicidal behavior. I am also committed to training the next generation of researchers and clinicians, and to increasing the diversity of the US biomedical workforce. Being the daughter of Honduran immigrants and the first in my immediate family to go to college, I wanted to work to provide similar opportunities to others who might not otherwise have them.

I want to be a part of creating and fostering diverse, inclusive and collaborative environments where people can work together towards meaningful change, so that we can continue to make progress in addressing our children’s mental health needs.

SW: Mental wellbeing is an issue that hits close to home for many people of all ages. How have you seen the discussion around mental health shift since the pandemic began, and what does it mean for young people specifically?

RM: Because the pandemic has been a collective stressor felt around the world, it has led to greater normalization of talking about mental health. We have permission to not be okay sometimes and to talk about not being okay. At the same time, the pandemic has also highlighted how difficult it can be to access care when you need it, especially for communities of color.

I entered the field of youth suicide research just after we had begun to see increases in youth suicides nationally. I am encouraged that there are now national (and international) conversations happening and a greater sense of urgency about addressing youth mental health and mental health disparities. I hope that these conversations lead to more investment and substantial change in these areas.

SW: Are there are any specific topics within the mental health space or aspects of mental wellbeing that you wish were acknowledged or addressed more often?

RM: I think we need to be talking about for whom our systems of care are working well and for whom they aren’t working well and why. We often assume, for instance, that communities of color don’t seek mental health care because of stigma. And while this may be true, in some instances, we don’t know enough about what happens when young people and their families seek care, and if there are things they are experiencing when they do seek treatment that make them less likely to go back the next time they are struggling. One part of this involves acknowledging the strengths that communities have been drawing upon to thrive, in spite of systems that may not serve them well.

SW: You were on set for our Sound It Out campaign PSAs, to help facilitate the conversations between kids and music artists Empress Of and Lauren Jauregui. How was that experience for you?

RM: It was an honor to work with Marianne, Anna, and their mothers, and with Empress Of (Lorely Rodriguez) and Lauren Jauregui. Both Lorely and Lauren are gifted songwriters. Marianne and Anna are wise beyond their years. And what a surprise to find out that both Empress Of and Marianne were fellow Honduran-Americans. How often does the universe align to bring together three Honduran-Americans from different parts of the country who had never before met each other? I never get to meet fellow Honduran-Americans in a professional context, so this made it extra special. And Lauren Jauregui is a fellow “Miamense,” so that was also a great point of commonality. The songs inspired by the conversations they had with Marianne and Anna were incredible, and to have played a small part in facilitating the process that led to their development was an unforgettable experience.

SW: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

RM: Some of the best advice I have ever received is that it is always best to err on the side of grace.