Meet Our Psychiatrist: Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan

“I’ve had the amazing honor of working on 988 from many different angles.”

Would you please tell us more about your involvement with the 988 hotline?

Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan
Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan

988 is an incredible resource that launched in July 2022, which provides immediate mental health support to anyone, anytime. It is available in all 50 states, Tribal areas, and even US Territories abroad. You can reach out from any landline or cellphone, text directly to 988, or chat on the web at Services are supported by bilingual English-Spanish counselors, and interpreter services are available for more than 200 other languages. Additionally, there are American Sign Language and other options for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

988 isn’t just for suicide prevention. You can call about any mental health crisis or even if you’re just having a really hard day. If you’re worried about a loved one and aren’t sure what to do, 988 can provide guidance. Perhaps most amazing of all—average wait times to reach a trained crisis counselor through 988 are just 30-40 seconds in most states.

I’ve had the amazing honor of working on 988 from many different angles. When I lived in Washington, DC, I served as health counsel for US Congressman Tony Cárdenas, an inspiring and visionary leader. Together, we introduced the 988 Implementation Act, which provided guidance, funding, and federal support for 988 and a comprehensive crisis continuum of care. I also served as staff director of the bipartisan 988 & Crisis Services Congressional Task Force, which was instrumental in moving these provisions forward and their signage by President Biden, who has declared 988 a national priority.

After returning to California, I was appointed to our state Office of Emergency Services 988 Technical Advisory Board, which oversees 988 implementation across California’s 58 counties. I also chair the agency’s 988 Equity and Accessibility Working Group, which seeks to ensure that these services are high-quality and accessible for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live. One of the projects I am most excited about is the development of mental health specialist teams who can respond to emergencies needing more support than can be provided over the phone—just like how we have ambulances and trained EMTs and paramedics responding to medical emergencies, instead of relying solely on police. I previously wrote about how this system is failing people for the San Diego Union-Tribune: Opinion: As a psychiatrist, I have seen how the current emergency response system fails my patients – The San Diego Union-Tribune

What drove you to pursue a career in psychiatry?

I was always interested in the interactions between people, society, and biology. These came together in medicine. I originally thought I might want to do surgery, pediatrics, or family medicine, but during medical school, I rotated through many different specialties, and it was then that I realized that psychiatry was the most interesting for me.

What do you love most about treating clients?

People living with mental illness have dreams, wants, goals, and needs—just like everybody else. It’s such a privilege to be able to meet each patient where they are and support them as they do the hard work of figuring out what’s important to them and how to get there. Treating symptoms is just part of that bigger picture, not the end goal.

What advice do you have for students pursuing a career in psychiatry?

Medicine is a long career path, but it is very rewarding. Mentorship can be really important. Shadowing physicians and other health professionals can also help you figure out which career is best for you.

What makes BrightQuest special?

Someone with a mental health condition is so much more than their diagnosis, but often they are treated by the health care system as a collection of symptoms to be treated. At BrightQuest, folks are treated as a whole person, with support in place for each part. Studies show that interprofessional teams deliver the best support for individuals with severe mental illness, and it’s amazing to see how much this is integrated throughout the program. I witness my patients not just stabilize, but improve, grow, and learn new skills. As the psychiatrist on the team, I get to work with my patients on identifying and implementing medications and other strategies to so they are empowered to work towards their goals. I also get to work with families, which is also so important and often neglected.

Please share a memorable moment from your career.

At this point, more than 10 million people have reached out and gotten help from 988. It’s incredible to have been part of that.

Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan's Bio

Eric Rafla-Yuan, M.D. is a board-certified physician, researcher, educator, and policy expert. He is a voluntary assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, where he founded and led the psychiatry residency diversity committee. In this role he teaches other physicians and medical students, as well as social workers, nurses, and other professional students. He graduated medical school and completed additional training in bioethics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and completed residency training at the UC San Diego Community Psychiatry Program.

As a board certified psychiatrist, Dr. Rafla-Yuan works with patients of all ages and specializes in trauma and development. For many individuals, the often-resulting challenges of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) get in the way of performing their best, feeling their best, or having the relationships they seek. Sometimes, and not uncommonly, it can even get in the way of individuals getting the medical or dental care they need. Dr. Rafla-Yuan utilizes a mentalization-based treatment (MBT) approach and believes that being patient-centered and trauma-informed is the most effective way to meet patients wherever they are. Dr. Rafla-Yuan has worked with a wide range of patients of all ages and backgrounds, in a wide range of settings, including academic medical center hospitals and clinics, residential treatment programs, public sector services, assertive community treatment teams, and the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital system.

In addition to working one on one with patients, Dr. Rafla-Yuan is dedicated to improving the health of communities across California and the nation and has previously served as senior policy advisor for the County of San Diego and held leadership roles with the San Diego Psychiatric Society and the California State Association of Psychiatrists. He is on the board of the Miles Hall Foundation as well as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Council of Advocacy and Government Relations. His research focuses on policy and structural drivers of health outcomes and his work on 988 and clinical crisis services has been published in popular media as well as the New England Journal of Medicine and Health Affairs. He is the vice president of the Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists, chair of the APA Caucus on the Social Determinants of Health, a delegate in the American Medical Association House of Delegates, and formerly served as Health Counsel in the United States House of Representatives during the 117th session of Congress.

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