By KATE SELTZER
Dr. Sudhir Nagaraja’s last day at the Talley Center was Wednesday, Apr. 18. After five years as the university’s contracted consulting psychiatrist, he says that UMW can and should do more to prioritize mental health.
“Over the years, the caseload has increased,” Nagaraja said. “The accuity I think has gone up in the time that I was at the Talley Center, and I’m not sure if the resources and support from the administration has been commensurate with that increase.”
Nagaraja felt that at times his critiques of the university’s current mental health resources and suggested improvements fell on deaf ears.
“About two years ago I had sent a letter to Dr. Paino bringing attention to the staffing issues that we were having. I never received a follow-up from Dr. Paino’s office,” he said.
Dr. Paino’s Chief of Staff, Jeff McClurken, responded in a statement. “Since Dr. Paino’s arrival, the University has made a number of positive steps with regard to mental health, including adding staff and creating the satellite office, all in a time of limited resources,” McClurken said.
Nagaraja says that the lack of mental health resources is a problem that extends beyond campus.
“I know that this is not just an issue at University of Mary Washington,” said Nagaraja. “I think locally, statewide and even nationally there’s a microscope on mental health. Our state has historically not done a very good job.”
He pointed to the country’s opioid crisis as an extreme example of this failure.
“I think [my experience at the Talley Center] has emphasized how little resources [there are], and a lot of times how mental health becomes less of a priority,” Nagaraja said. “Especially with what’s happening in the country in terms of the opioid epidemic, we don’t spend enough money on mental health treatment. That’s not just an issue at the Talley Center or at UMW; this is a statewide and a national issue that resources are not allocated the way they’re supposed to be. I think that changes when there’s a crisis. It shouldn’t be that way – it shouldn’t be a case where 50,000 people are dying from opioids every year, [and that’s when] we start spending money on it.”
In his tenure since 2013, Dr. Nagaraja felt that his services were sometimes underutilized by the university. He found it strange that despite “giv[ing] talks all the time around the area,” he had “never given a presentation at Mary Washington.”
Nagaraja is also an advocate for integrative holistic medicine, which attempts to address some of the limitations of traditional Western medicine including high costs and potentially negative side effects through non-traditional means.
“Western medicine is great for acute care,” Nagaraja said. “I’m trained in Western medicine and I believe in it, but I don’t believe it does enough when you’re talking about non-critical, non-emergency kinds of issues. The principle behind integrative medicine is looking at things that are outside of that view, [including] nutrition, diet, exercise [and] Eastern philosophies like yoga, meditation and acupuncture.”
He thought that this ideology had and has a place at UMW.
“I talked with some of the folks at the Talley Center and Dr. Riley who used to be over at the Health Center about incorporating integrated holistic treatments into treatment and offering it to students, and that was met with silence,” said Nagaraja.
Dr. Nagaraja cited a variety of reasons for his leaving, including the introduction of the NRA-affiliated firearms club, turnover within the Talley Center and wanting to spend more time at his private practice. Despite his criticisms, he described an overall positive experience in working at the Talley Center. He said the most rewarding part of the job was working with students.
“To be able to see students over the course of a year or a couple of years grow and evolve and become adults while dealing with a mental illness, that to me was just fantastic,” Nagaraja said.
In parting, Dr. Nagaraja said that the past five years have been “a wonderful opportunity.”
“I appreciate the time I had at the Talley Center,” he said. “I do wish everyone there well.”