Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Kansas City, MO. Although, many Netsmart associates laugh when I say that. I get it; I grew up about five minutes east of our office in Overland Park, KS. The state line was in my backyard, but it was still technically Missouri. I attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School (KS) and University of Kansas for my BA in Psychology (now you see why they laugh when I say I am a Missouri girl). After KU (Rock Chalk!), I moved to Chicago and earned my master’s degree in professional counseling. I completed my practicum in Indianapolis, working with at-risk youth and their families.
I returned to the Sunflower State to work at the University of Kansas. I helped run one of the TRIO programs, which are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO programs bring education opportunities for all Americans regardless of race, ethnic background or economic circumstance. The program placed me in Wyandotte County, KS, providing services to youth and their families who were low income and potential first-generation college bound students.
After working for KU, I went to work for a local family law firm and provided counseling and mediation services. I knew I still wanted to do more and reach more people, which led me to Netsmart.
My son is almost 14 years old, and like most parents, I too believe Alex is the world’s greatest child! I have turned into an Uber driver overnight, of course without the pay. Running from soccer, theater, youth group, Ignite classes and friends’ houses. I am starting to understand why everyone told me to soak up the hugs and quality time before he becomes a teenager and will be too busy for me.
We welcomed the newest member of our family, our yellow lab J.C. (If you know me, you know what those letters stand for 😉). He will be 1 in August and is 100% spoiled rotten.
Alex Zerger and J.C.
Give us some highlights of your career
While studying Psychology at KU, our research was published in the Journal of Social Psychology in 2001 and 2007. During my senior year and prior to leaving for graduate school, I worked at the Kansas Children’s Services league, an evidence-based programming that works with children and families in the areas of health, safety and education to succeed and break cycles of neglect, abuse and trauma. I assisted case managers providing community-based services. While working on my master’s degree in professional counseling, I provided services to at-risk youth and their families in Westfield, Indiana, specifically those who had recently been released from the juvenile detention center.
After grad school, I wrote and implemented grants aimed at helping students and their families overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. We achieved 85% postsecondary admissions and 99% grade level completion. In addition to those services, I provided counseling to Wyandotte County students and their families.
In addition to providing services to children, youth and families, during my tenure at Netsmart I have been privileged to work in many different parts of the organization. First, as a Solutions Consultant, providing solution demonstrations and subject matter expertise to current and prospect clients. I then worked on our consumer engagement solutions, including consumer portal, kiosk, recovery-focused outcomes and digitized self-help tools. I also developed and managed relationships with third party clinical content providers and strategic Netsmart clients. While in the business unit, I worked closely with marketing, demand generation, product management and community leaders to define go-to-market strategies. In my most recent role, I have the privilege of leading our Child and Family Services and Developmental Disabilities business unit. I work closely with clients to ensure technology, market demands and strategy are aligned.
National Council Awards Ceremony – Tricia Zerger, Mike Valentine (CEO) and Julie Hiett (2018)
While at Netsmart, I had the opportunity to become a Certified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor in 2016. Just like CPR training helps an individual without medical training learn life-saving skills, MHFA helps a person with no clinical background learn how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills needed to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. As of today, there are more than 2.5 million first aiders across the country. I am honored to help individuals become a first aider and encourage you to take the course if you have not.
Netsmart was named the recipient of the National Council for Behavioral Health’s 2018 MHFA Business Leadership Award.
By the end of the month, I will also be certified in QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer), which is a suicide prevention program that helps save lives and reduce suicidal behaviors by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training.
Why did you make the change from clinical work to working at Netsmart?
I grew up in a family who owned their own businesses, so I learned a lot about communication, selling, leadership and building relationships. There was always a fire lit within me to do bigger and better. Technology is the way to go, and Netsmart is the answer. I don’t know if it was fate or luck, but one day I received a call from one of my closest friends who also worked in healthcare IT. She said she found the perfect company for me. She told me about Netsmart and gave me the name of a few associates to reach out to and learn more information. I interviewed in 2014 and recently celebrated seven years of service.
Mental Health First Aid Certification Course (2020)
What makes you passionate about serving the clients/organizations who use Netsmart services?
I always knew I wanted to be in the helping profession. My mom often shares a story about me in grade school. She said I would be on the phone for hours helping friends with family, friendship or school issues. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to help as many people live a fulfilled life. I knew a therapeutic office-based setting would allow me to reach a few people each day, but it’s through technology we can reach millions of people across the country. That feeling energizes me and gives me a sense of accomplishment in my career and personal life.
I am always TRYING to focus on the positive and help others discover their potential for personal greatness. Individuals who believe they can overcome their problems, whether that is depression, anxiety, addiction, poverty, etc. fare better than those that who believe their problems are too big. If they truly believe and do the work, they can create the kind of lives and relationships they desire.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
The perfect weekend always includes Alex and me taking the dog to the dog park, running, seeing friends and family, cooking and equally important, self-care. In the last few years, I realized the most important thing I must do each week is self-care. I will fall on my own sword and admit it was missing from my life. I always remind my MHFA class that I am not exempt from any of the statistics. I have experienced traumatic events and depression and have supported family and friends as they have experienced a mental health or addictions crisis. Self-care is critical for me, you, your friends and family.
Words of Advice:
Let’s get real, there are times in life when all of us feel overwhelmed. Whether it’s personal, work, school, social obligations or just life in general, we can all become overwhelmed, anxious or stressed. It’s important to give yourself grace when you have these feelings. Try not to brush them off or push through whatever is causing you to feel anxious or down.
Think about it this way, a teen lies on a soccer field with a broken leg. He immediately gets attention from coaches, trainers and teammates. A medical protocol is followed, and a care plan is created for rehabilitation.
Compare this treatment to the teen athlete living with depression. Friends and teammates think she’s sad and withdrawn, but they chalk it up to a bad day. The coach checks in and her response is, “I’m fine.” The conversation ends there. The teacher notices the grades are slipping, but thinks it is due to the rigor of being an athlete.
Where is the immediate attention, protocol in place, and treatment plan to help the student become emotionally and mentally healthy again? It’s time to recognize mental health is as essential as physical health. I tell everyone in my life not just in my MHFA class: be an ambassador to reduce stigma and remember #mentalhealthmatters!