Awards and Honors: Meril Tomy ’17 Receives Davis Projects for Peace Grant: Project Will Bring Free Mental Health Resources to Patients in Orange County

As a high school student in Orange, California, Meril Tomy ’17 began volunteering at Lestonnac Clinic, a center that works with volunteer health professionals to offer free medical services to uninsured and low-income patients. She became particularly passionate about ensuring patient access to mental and behavioral health services, helping to build programs to de-stigmatize mental illness, and provide patient support and resources. Now, as the recipient of a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant, Tomy will help expand those programs by partnering with regional health organizations to establish additional counseling resources, workshops, classes, and an informational community resource guide for those seeking help.

Tomy developed her connection to health services by pursuing a molecular biology major with a pre-medical track. She plans to maintain her relationship with the clinic after graduating from Scripps College this May.

“I feel lucky to have volunteered there, and I think the clinic’s unique mission and practice of offering quality healthcare services to uninsured and low-income patients is paramount,” she says. “It’s something I hope to be a part of as a physician in the coming years.”

Observing the growing need for mental health care resources, Tomy helped initiate a free program to bring mental health providers and patients together for presentations and discussions. For the clinic’s population to get the most benefit from the programming, she brought in Spanish-bilingual and bicultural providers to bridge linguistic and cultural gaps.

“We wanted to make the program more accessible to the community,” she says.

The program started with monthly classes on a range of mental health topics, with Tomy working as a facilitator. Over the year, it continued to expand and, as a result, it has helped break down some sociocultural barriers to mental health in her local community. Tomy explains, “By taking classes like Latinx Mental Health,” referring to a psychology class at Pomona College, “I’ve learned more about my role and the importance of providing culturally-competent care as a physician. I’m understanding my own position and what I can do to support [these projects] through this grant, what I can do with resources, and how much work is necessary.”

With the Davis Projects for Peace grant, Tomy will be able to expand the program further. The clinic recently partnered with healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente to restructure mental health services at the clinic, and Tomy hopes to assist in these efforts. The grant funding will go towards training primary care providers at the clinic to talk about mental health with patients and compiling an informational resource guide for Orange County while continuing and expanding the existing programs and classes on mental health.