Eli Merritt, M.D., is a psychiatrist and mental health expert who consults widely in the Bay Area. Founder of Merritt Mental Health, a Care Navigation practice that helps patients and family members navigate the mental health system, he is past president of the San Francisco Psychiatric Society and past member of the Adjunct Clinical Faculty at Stanford. He completed a B.A. in history at Yale, M.A. in ethics at Yale, medical degree at Case Western Reserve, medical internship at the Lahey Clinic, and residency in psychiatry at Stanford. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including The Gulevich Award in Psychotherapy and Humanistic Psychiatry, the Humanism in Medicine Award, and the Saunders Award in Family Systems. Born in Nashville, he lives in San Francisco with his wife and two sons.
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Why are you a SFMS member?
I am an SFMS member because I believe in two fundamentals of social psychology and medicine: 1) the power of the group and 2) the power of advocacy. SFMS advocates for the health and well-being of patients and their families. This central mission, joined with providing the best treatment possible to our patients, is what most motivates me every day in the consulting work I do with patients and families at Merritt Mental Health.
Which SFMS member resource is most helpful to you?
The wonderful magazine, San Francisco Medicine, and socializing with colleagues.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
For one thing, I do try to exercise, whether I enjoy it or not. And I can say categorically that I do greatly enjoy playing squash and tennis with my two sons, Alejandro (11) and Cameron (8). It is always a highlight of my week when we find the time.
In addition to this, I enjoy reading and writing. Over two recent weeks in Spain I re-read Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. It is, to me, one of the most powerful works of literature ever written. Hugo, Jean Valjean, and the other characters in this novel are a great inspiration for me.
Related to my enjoyment of reading, this fall I will complete a book, Suicide Risk in the Bay Area: A Guide for Parents, Physicians, Therapists, and Other Professionals. Primarily, the book is a public health initiative whose aim is to increase awareness, education, and training in the area of suicide risk assessment and management. My plan for the rest of the year is to work tirelessly to get the word about suicide prevention and to encourage all people in all walks of life to “Talk About It.”
I have a personal family history of suicide; my mother died by suicide when I was child. Added to this, I am heartbroken and pained every time I hear another story about an adolescent or young adult who took his or her life. I feel we have a moral imperative to improve the mental health and well-being of the young and, especially, to prevent the young from dying this way.
I would be honored if SFMS members purchased the book, gave me feedback, and joined me in this important health initiative.
Discount Code: “Prevention” SFMS members can pre-order the book at a 15% off. Just go to my website, add the book to your cart, and enter the code in the shopping cart on the following screen. Starting October 1, the book will be available through Amazon.
What is the most important thing you learned in medical school or residency?
That excellent medical care involves a great deal of care & relationship. With the accelerating pace of society and medicine, as well as the rapid and exciting advance of technology in all fields, including psychiatry, I believe both of these cornerstones of medicine are under threat.
I am on a personal and professional crusade to keep care & relationship at the center of everything we do. The book, Suicide Risk in the Bay Area: A Guide for Parents, Physicians, Therapists, and Other Professionals, is part of this crusade.
What are some of the biggest opportunities or challenges you see in health care within the next five year?
Two things: 1) affordability and 2) keeping care & relationship as the twin foundation stones of the structure of medicine and all medical decision-making at all times. This includes making more room in medicine for the families of our patients. Doctors need more time to listen and to get to know their patients. It matters profoundly to the patient and can save money and time, in the long run, as well as mitigate the anxiety which is so often the impetus for so many unnecessary tests and procedures.
What do you love most about practicing psychiatry?
Most of all, I still love direct patient care--that is, my combination psychotherapy-psychopharmacology practice. Also, in the spring of 2014 I launched Merritt Mental Health, a new concept in psychiatry care. At Merritt Mental Health I consult with patients and family members on their current struggles with psychiatric illness and with our fragmented mental health care system. In response, I provide them with the best advice, guidance, and care navigation possible. I work a great deal with adolescents and young adults and their families, which is extremely satisfying work. I consult widely in the area of addiction, positively one of the most difficult illnesses across all medical specialties, and increasing in the area of suicide risk.
What is a special talent that you have?
I would say that there are two talents I am always striving to develop and improve: 1) being a good father and 2) expanding my capacity for empathy, compassionate listening, and remaining calm when the storm strikes. Storms can strike, of course, at work and at home (-:
What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?
Dolores Park Cafe on 20th & Dolores, not far from where I live. Both of my two sons first tasted the flavors of Dolores Park Cafe when they were infants, with their heads poking out of a baby bjorn. We still go there often. It is filled to the brim for me with memories of my children’s lives in San Francisco. Their great delight there is the hummus plate (Cameron) and the mozzarella sandwich (Alejandro).
If you weren't preparing to become a physician, what profession would you like to try?
I would be a writer, either as a professor or an independent scholar..