Dr. Sohil Sud joined the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative in January as its new Director. His background combines long-standing clinical experience – as a pediatrician and an Associate Clinical Professor at UCSF – with collaborative public health work – serving as a key leader in the California Department of Public Health’s Safe Schools initiative and overseeing their school health and chronic disease programs. We asked him a few questions about what led him to CYBHI, his hopes for its future and what it will take to make the initiative sustainable over the long term. 

How did your career path bring you to CYBHI? 

I’ve spent the past 10 years caring for kids in hospitals. Throughout that time, I’ve seen first-hand how our young people struggle with stress, depression, substance use, and other behavioral health challenges. Many of the conditions I manage in the hospital are preventable, or at least ameliorable, through upstream, population-level supports. And after the pandemic hit, I got off the sidelines and began working to improve public health conditions, focusing my energy initially on policies related to maintaining safe, in-person instruction in California’s 10,000 TK-12 schools. That experience made me see that all of us working with youth and families – in communities, health, and education – see the effects of a society where anxiety is rising, the importance of providing support, and the resilience of our youth. How can we create policies that promote safety, health, and wellness in the spaces where our children live and learn? As a clinician, a public health worker, and a dad, I understand how vital the CYBHI is to answering those questions, and I’m excited to help move it forward. 

Are there any particular aspects of CYBHI’s work that drew you to be a part of the initiative?

CYBHI is a once-in-a-generation investment, and it’s an honor to help make its vision real. I love the focus on equity and reaching those who need and deserve this level of support and engagement. I love that we’re drawing health care into the spaces where people live their lives – building up parents and helping to make the home environment more supportive, enriching communities with behavioral health providers, and collaborating with the education sector to make sure youth can get the support they need in school. That also means bringing these services online. Many of us have our phones right next to us at all times, so the launch of our new virtual behavioral health services platforms is an exciting and groundbreaking moment.

I’m also incredibly fortunate to work with so many passionate, committed, and dedicated people across all of CYBHI’s activities. The folks in this space are doing amazing work. I want them to know that I’m grateful for their efforts, I’m learning more about them every day, and I’m excited to partner with them in pushing it forward.

How do you see the CYBHI’s work changing as the initiative transitions from strategy development to implementation?

It’s about making sure the right people are at the table and about rapid-cycle learning. We’re on a short timeline, it’s going to be messy, and we’re going to make mistakes. But the question is, how do we learn from everything we do? How do we move forward and improve? The fee schedule work is a great example of this approach in action. We are starting with a small cohort of school districts, with whom we hope to learn how to get it right. Next, we go to a second cohort and learn and iterate some more. Only then do we open it up to everybody. I’m fortunate to have a team of people who’ve thought well, long and hard about the importance of rapid-cycle learning, working with youth at the center, and building that into the process.

What is needed to make this work sustainable over the long term?

We need to make a tangible difference in the everyday lives of Californian families, and society needs to see the value of these efforts. The CYBHI is incredibly comprehensive, complex, and it can be difficult for people to get their arms around.  But if we can transform the way California supports our children, youth, and families…If we can reimagine what behavioral health supports and services are, and if we can collectively and effectively implement our vision, then we will find a way to sustain it. Achieving that means learning with each step forward. It means making sure that every time we roll something out to a school, we listen and learn what worked and what didn’t. It means continuing to hone and craft this work to make it better within this short timeframe. And it means being able to break down this work in ways that people will understand and connect with.

How would you describe the impact you hope to see from the CYBHI?

Stress is a part of our daily existence, but for too many, this stress turns toxic. This is particularly the case for those who have cards stacked against them due to longstanding and structural forms of injustice. I hope that, through the CYBHI, when someone is down or struggling, the work we’re doing brings them back up. It could manifest as a person feeling more comfortable using self-care techniques. Or by ensuring that there is someone in everybody’s life that they can turn to readily and rapidly during tough times. We are taking an all-in approach and bolstering supports for youth and families in their homes, communities, schools, colleges, online spaces, and within health care. Ultimately, I hope we collectively create safe and supportive spaces and improve behavioral health outcomes, and do so with youth at the center and equity as foundational.