8 Questions with Mary Wesley, Harvard DrPH '18

1. What is your DELTA project?   

My DELTA project supports the statewide implementation of young adult peer mentors for adolescent mental health treatment with MassHealth providers.

Young Adult Peer Mentors are youth who have successfully managed past mental illnesses and are trained to use their lived experience in providing peer coaching and basic therapeutic counseling to other youth dealing with mental illness. Young Adult Peer Mentors are considered a specialty expertise within therapeutic mentoring. MassHealth (the Massachusetts Medicaid agency) and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health are implementing the practice as part of a larger initiative to assist youth and young adults in developing mental health and life skills.

The DELTA project supports the scale-up of the young adult peer mentor pilot by examining MassHealth providers’ organizational interest in the innovation and organizational readiness to change. My project deliverables include surveys, educational materials, and an issue brief.

2. Who is your host organization?   

My host organization is MassHealth. My project is based in the Child Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI), which is part of the MassHealth Office of Behavioral Health.

3. Which populations and regions is your project in service of? My project focuses on the mental health needs of adolescents, particularly transition age youth.  Transition age youth are young adults who age out of youth services and transition to adult services. There are risks for instability in education, employment, healthcare, and housing during this time.

Mental illness and disabilities can exacerbate issues of poverty, homelessness or juvenile justice involvement (Marchand, Pirk, Putnam, & Savir, 2016). The partnership between MassHealth and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health sought to address the unique needs of transition age youth. Young Adult Peer Mentors provide enhanced peer support that will better engage transition age youth and facilitate successful mental health recovery.

4. Why did you choose to work on this project?

My choice was primarily driven by an interest in adolescent mental health and underserved populations. I believe mental health is critical at all stages, particularly during adolescence.  Underserved populations have unique needs that require innovative solutions.

A secondary interest was to work in state government. I came from Mississippi state government, working at the Mississippi State Department of Health before coming to Harvard. I wanted experience in Massachusetts state government. The project’s innovation, target population, and host organization addressed these interests.

5. What is the main goal you're hoping to accomplish with this project?

I hope to positively impact adolescent mental health in Massachusetts.

6. What are you most excited about for your project?

I am excited about the opportunity for applied learning that adds value to an organization doing important work.

7. What skills and experiences from your past will likely be the greatest asset for your project?

The DrPH coursework has been helpful in thinking about leadership challenges that might occur within MassHealth provider organizations as they seek to implement innovation.

My past work in Mississippi state government involving partnerships with state agencies, academic institutions, private foundations, and the federal government are useful since MassHealth’s work involves partnerships with the Department of Mental Health and stakeholders. I previously worked to balance priorities and find shared interests to advance maternal and child health data collection for the health department. I plan to draw from these collaborative experiences in my thesis work.

8. What most surprised you about your project? 

It has been surprising to see the complexities of scaling up innovation. My past experience in state government focused on research for public health surveillance. Now I am learning about practice and implementation.

My project is built off a pilot, and there is still a desire to optimize the innovation. This means the practice of young adult peer mentoring is being evaluated, implemented, and improved at the same time. Subsequently, my work must address the strengths of the model and the evolving nature of the model. I appreciate the opportunity to address complexities in public health practice in an applied setting for widespread change.