This week’s Homegrown Hero is Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., who’s a child psychiatrist, with a focus on addiction at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. He works with troubled teenagers, teens and young adults with drug and alcohol problems.
“I've been blessed in that I really have a job that I love, and that I have a passion for, the same way that I have a passion for the Red Bulls,” said Dr. Solhkhah. “So it has been, my life's calling, I work with troubled teenagers, teens and young adults with drug and alcohol problems. I'm a child psychiatrist with a special interest in addiction. That has been my work. I've been here in New Jersey for 10 years and have the privilege of taking care of children, teenagers and their families. It's a real privilege, as a psychiatrist, people really let you into their lives and you get to really know your patients.
He continued: “It's always been something that I always feel is very humbling and a great honor that patients trust you to let you in at one of their darkest times and when they're struggling to help them and certainly, with everything that's going on with COVID-19 right now and the epidemic, people are stressed out more than ever, so having soccer back has been great because that gives people a distraction, a hobby and a way to spend some of their time and get back to some of the normal fun things that we all used to do. And, you know, my work site, I’m just trying to help in the hospital as much as I can, been lucky to do so.”
During the past months, he’s had many new experiences, one of them has been supporting the frontline doctors and nurses that needed a shoulder to lean on as they worked nonstop to cure COVID-19 patients.
“As a psychiatrist, and the team that I work with, part of our job has really been helping take care of the other healthcare providers and, you know, the emergency room physicians and nurses, the ICU doctors and nurses, and all of the people who've been dealing on the frontlines of COVID-19,” said Dr. Solhkhah. “Our job has been to really give them a shoulder to lean on and, we're here to listen to so that that has certainly been the thing that I've been struck by with this epidemic is that the first responders doing paramedics and those out in the field, as well as the doctors at the frontline at the hospital and everything, that being able to support them has been critically important.
“I think that the thing that I've sort of learned or taken away from it is that I think we were all using the wrong word around, ‘social distancing.’ And it's not about social distancing, right? It's about physical distancing. But we need our social connections more than ever. We need our social support more than ever, so whether that's being able to Skype someone, get on the Zoom group, Zoom watch party and watch the Red Bulls play. Thank goodness that sports are back and having those regular things that we all used to do to relax, to connect with each other, to connect with our communities, that's been more important than ever. So that's certainly the major thing that I've learned from this experience.”
Last year he had the privilege to do the coin flip before one of New York’s matches.
“I had the privilege last year of doing the coin flip at one of the games, so that was definitely a highlight of my fandom,” he said. “To be out there on the field with the team, get to shake hands with Luis [Robles], and the team out there, that was just a fantastic memory for me.”
Dr. Solhkhah has observed that in the past months, mental health issues have become a little bit more stressful for people, mainly because of everything that’s going on in the country since the pandemic started.
“So you know going back to the beginning of it, people stayed away, so the only patients who were coming into the hospital were really those patients who were very sick either with COVID-19 or sick with other medical issues that needed to be at the hospital,” said Dr. Solhkhah. “So we stayed fairly, unfortunately, fairly busy through most of the spring and early summer here in terms of taking care of patients, and for the past month or six weeks unfortunately, mental health issues have become a little bit more stressful for people.
“I think it's a combination of dealing with the pandemic, dealing with the economic consequences of the pandemic, and with all the racial discord and social discord that's going on right now. It's just there's a lot going on in people's lives, so I think that that's beginning to really stress people out. Unfortunately there have been some famous things going on, you know, in the news the past couple days with a couple of famous people, and you can see their struggles and the addiction and mental illness don't discriminate, so it's from richest to poorest and everyone in between.”
Dr. Solhkhah doesn’t like how wearing masks has become a political discussion, rather than a health discussion, but he hopes for better days to come.
“My hope is that as a country, we start thinking about each other again, rather than ourselves always, taking care of each other and supporting each other, we certainly saw that in the early days of the pandemic, where people were really looking out for each other, trying to take care of each other,” he said. “I think if we can get back to some of that, that's certainly where sports is important to me. Soccer is important to me because you learn about teamwork, you learn about camaraderie, you learn about win or lose, it's about playing the game, right? There's a reason that these sayings are around because that's true, and they really resonate with us as people. We've lost our way a little bit, but I have no doubt that we'll find our way back and hopefully sooner rather than later and get things back where we need to be.”
He misses coming to the stadium but has been inspired by how our young team goes out there to give it their all.
“If I can answer that with two things, for the experience, the energy, and the fan focus that the team has had, and the organization has had, it has always impressed me,” said Dr. Solhkhah. “I think of all the things that they do to really make the experience enjoyable for us as fans, so I think that has been important. When I watch the team, and even right now, we've got a bunch of really young, energetic guys, who go out there to give it their all, that's always inspiring for me to watch.”