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“How to make a positive impact.” With Beau Henderson & Dr. Howard Pratt

Young people should consider making a positive impact because when you help society, you help yourself. At the end of the day, it feels good to help others and I find that a lot of what I do is partly selfish. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than making a positive impact in someone else’s […]

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Young people should consider making a positive impact because when you help society, you help yourself. At the end of the day, it feels good to help others and I find that a lot of what I do is partly selfish. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than making a positive impact in someone else’s life. Whether you’re volunteering at a shelter or speaking with an elderly person, the smallest act of kindness is like a ripple in a pond. You’ll be surprised how that little ripple can leave a large positive mark.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Howard Pratt of Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI)

In April 2008, now psychiatrist Dr. Howard Pratt of Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI), was performing his psych rotation during his residency at Virginia Tech, just one year after the university’s mass shooting. That event, and the subsequent treatment the doctor-in-training provided university students, set him on a new course. Originally on track to become a surgeon, Dr. Pratt was drawn into the field of mental health. While treating those traumatized students, Dr. Pratt had his first intense experience with the value of sound mental health to our society. Today, while providing psychological care for children at CHI, Dr. Pratt remains deeply devoted to mitigating the mental health challenges caused and exacerbated by COVID-19, social injustice, and the nation’s transition into a new normal.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Born and raised in Orange County, California, I was a suburban kid through and through, with no shortage of sun and surf. I was an only child, living with both parents in a well-knit community. From a very young age, my parents heavily stressed the importance of pursuing higher education. My father worked in finance and taught business at a local university, while my mother was a special education teacher, so the question was never ‘where do you want to go to college?’ but rather ‘where do you want to go to graduate school?’ My upbringing, coupled with my desire to do something useful in this world, motivated me to attend medical school.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book that has made the greatest impact on me is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The story of a family making their way through California for a better life gave me an entirely new perspective on my grandfather. He was born during the Great Depression and, although he was a well-educated, brilliant man, he always had a deep distrust of systems and was very adamant about making sure everything we purchased never went to waste. I couldn’t understand his odd tendencies until I read The Grapes of Wrath and realized how desperate situations could have a large mental impact. More importantly, it showed me the value of family, especially during times of crisis.”

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

A life lesson that resonated with me is the idea that people don’t care about what you know, until they believe you truly care about their well-being. When I first started my practice in child and adolescent psychiatry, parents focused less on my credentials and more on how I treated their children. I remember one parent told me he needed to know my character before I could speak with his child. He had refused treatment from several other doctors, and the fact that I took the time to sit and chat with him, while many others didn’t, made all the difference. Ultimately, I was the only physician allowed to treat his child, even after they left the hospital.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery once said that leadership is ‘the capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust.’ To me, this definition goes far beyond titles. Individuals can be placed in leadership positions, but that does not necessarily make them true leaders. We tend to gravitate towards those individuals that have natural leadership qualities, whether they have been officially appointed or not. Natural leaders care about their team and ensure that everyone is preserved while achieving the common goal. They also have the ability to solve problems and instill confidence in those around them, which is what I strive to do every day, personally and professionally. Above all, I try to show my patients, staff, family, and friends that I care for them and I want them to experience a better tomorrow.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Our country is certainly going through many issues, but at the underbelly of everything we have a mental health crisis. With COVID-19, social injustice, and this transition into the new normal, our anxieties are further amplified. Now that we’re at home, we are realizing that we’re unhappy, our children are unhappy, and our significant others are unhappy. This resonates with me personally as an African-American man, but also professionally because I am seeing more patients than ever before.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

The issues this country is facing are not new. There has always been racial prejudice, police brutality, and mental health crises. This pot has been boiling for a long time and the pressures of COVID-19 have caused everything to spill over. With the death of George Floyd, many people are frustrated by the indifference to humanity. We are raised with the notion that if we are good people, go to school, and get a job, everything will be fine. However, as we get older, we are faced with the realization that there’s an indifference towards us. In addition, financial burdens have worsened due to COVID. People are out of jobs, but they still need to pay their mortgage. This unprecedented hardship has taken a toll on our mental health as a collective.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause to improve our mental health, or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?

While I was in medical school, I did a psychiatry rotation at Virginia Tech right after the shooting. I witnessed its impact on young people and the stress it can have on college life. This experience opened my eyes to the value of mental health and inspired me to become a psychiatrist. Since then, I have been working in mental health for 6 years, and the main issues I see time and time again are anxiety and depression. With everything being public through social media, children and adolescents are exposed to issues at a young age, and their parents are unable to protect them. Adults have asked me how to address their child’s mental health needs and I think the best way is talk to your kids about what they are going through.

Now, here is the main question of our discussion: Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Start from a place of empathy. Although we may be different, there is very little that separates us. Historically, status and social class have not been determined by merit, but rather the family we were born into. If we consider this when we deal with each other and speak from a place of compassion, we will all become significantly better.

  1. Realize that someone else’s security doesn’t necessarily take away from yours. The idea that another person’s success can negatively impact your own is a very unhealthy way of thinking. In the end, it shouldn’t be about winning or losing. It’s about giving everyone equal opportunity to do better, whether you’re from a low-income or high-income family.
  2. Adapt or perish. There was a time when seat belts weren’t invented, smoking was allowed in restaurants, and certain people couldn’t vote. Our country had to let go of the past before we could move forward and improve as a society. I encourage everyone to embrace change and adapt to this ever-changing world.
  3. Make an effort to interact with people who have opposite beliefs. Although we are isolated due to COVID-19, the online space still allows us to connect with each other. Reaching out to different people and having a respectful conversation can broaden your horizons and bring you new perspectives.
  4. Practice self-care. If you can’t help yourself, you won’t be able to help those around you. Now, more than ever, it is important to acknowledge your feelings of frustration and sadness. We also have to take this time to focus on our mental and physical health. Instead of sitting around and thinking about the current situation, find activities that allow you to disconnect.”
  5. It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?

Making these ideas a reality comes down to us as individuals. With all the extra time on our hands, we have the opportunity to reach out to community leaders and politicians. Mental health professionals can’t see every patient, so better health policies are going to be crucial in bringing these ideas to life. The community can also advocate for mental health programs and support their community health centers, like Community Health of South Florida, Inc., the non-profit where I practice. For many families, a community health center is the only place where they have access to these services.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I am definitely optimistic that this issue can be resolved. What I love most about this country is that we are resourceful. One way or another, we will get through COVID-19 and social injustice, but first our country must go through the growing pains of change. I believe we will be much better a year from now than we are today.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Young people should consider making a positive impact because when you help society, you help yourself. At the end of the day, it feels good to help others and I find that a lot of what I do is partly selfish. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than making a positive impact in someone else’s life. Whether you’re volunteering at a shelter or speaking with an elderly person, the smallest act of kindness is like a ripple in a pond. You’ll be surprised how that little ripple can leave a large positive mark.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

As a proponent of community health, I would love to have breakfast or lunch with our former President, Barrack Obama. He was initially a community organizer, who went the extra mile to serve underprivileged neighborhoods across the United States. I am very much interested in going into health policy, and given Obama’s extensive community work and ability to connect with others, it would be great to hear his insights on implementing policies, networking, and effecting change.

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