By Timothy Rawles, May 2020 Issue.
Caregivers and patients in Arizona’s mental health population have a relentless leader in their community. Dominic Miller is the Vice President of Outpatient Services at Southwest Behavioral & Health Services, but he hopes his reach goes far beyond that, and to some it does.
Miller is openly gay and grew up in North Phoenix. Through the years he’s moved around some but has always stayed close to home. He now lives in Arcadia.
Professionally, he says he wants to improve health care systems for underserved populations. His goal is to provide more access to integrated mental and physical health services to these groups.
“I have experienced health care disparities as a minority myself and am committed to seeing our state and national health care systems change and improve,” he says.
Miller holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work, and a master’s degree in public administration, all three from Arizona State University.
“I provide individual therapy on a part time basis to a caseload of clients involved in the Federal Justice System,” Miller says. He is devoted to that and will always serve his patients one-on-one when he can.
This kind of dedication may come from his upbringing in a traditional but supportive family.
As a Latino, Miller is proud of his Mexican heritage and travels south of the border many times a year.
“I am obsessed with reggaeton, and love dancing to salsa and electric cumbia,” he says. ”I am lucky to have an uncle, Tio Ramon, who is a doctorate level specialist in Mexican Art history, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, so I think I was inspired at a very young age. I am currently a bachelor but am very committed to being a dad of an adorable French Bulldog in the future.”
Often, Latinx men and women describe the difficulties of growing up gay in a traditional household. Miller says that his wasn’t so bad, most of the difficulty came at a point of intersectionality.
“I remember constantly trying to identify with my different backgrounds and I think, like many of us, learned to survive by becoming a sort of a social chameleon before coming out,” Miller explains.“My family is very large — I have 30 first cousins, for example — and traditional in the sense that we come from communities with somewhat more conservative backgrounds.”
He identifies himself as a Chicano, or as he describes it, “a person of Mexican descent born in the U.S., but,” he adds, “I also am Italian and have some German heritage, hence my last name ‘Miller.’”
Perhaps the biggest conflict he had was with the Roman Catholic Church and later being a part of a Protestant evangelical community in college, “I remember my coming out process in college being confusing and painful because my church leaders did not agree with who I was and my decision to be the healthiest version of myself — out and supported. I eventually got to this point where I decided that others should not be afforded the decision to interpret my sexual identity as ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, and I moved on.”
In fact, Miller says his ecclesiastical leaders may have been his biggest bullies growing up, not in a physical way, but an emotional one.
“I am happy to say that through my own healing process I can discern healthy boundaries and don’t harbor any hate or ill will to those who have different beliefs than I do.”
Luckily his parents were very supportive of his coming out process especially his mother who he calls the “the best person on the planet.” Although that might be true, it appears his whole family rallies together not only to support him but each other.
They are a clan of creatives full of talent and that allowed him to explore all the facets of himself.
“I think my parents wanted to make sure I was supported in finding who I was and allowing a place for me to home in on my interests,” Miller says. “I particularly cherished moments at my grandparent’s house in Maryvale on the west side of Phoenix. They lived there for decades and I can still remember smells of my grandmother’s cooking, her beautiful green garden, and a large stone statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the backyard.”
When he was 21, Miller took on another task, perhaps paying forward all the support he got from his own family. He was matched with a student through a non-profit program based just west of Downtown Phoenix called Neighborhood Ministries. He mentored this student all the way through high school.
“He then went on to study out of state at a college on a scholarship. He’s an amazing person and I learned so much from him. His family moved to Arizona from Mexico when his mother was pregnant with him to provide him and their family an opportunity for a better future.”
That future may lie in how Arizona votes at the polls. Miller says Latinos are slated to be the largest voting minority group in 2020. “I’ve read reports that Krysten Sinema won the U.S. Senate seat over Martha McSally by the small margin of 2.3%. With stakes that close, it is absolutely imperative that everyone who can vote, does vote. I think Latinos have a huge presence in Arizona and should be involved in forming the political landscape of the state through voter representation.”
As previously stated, Miller is Vice President of Outpatient Services at Southwest Behavioral and Health Services. He also oversees other programs at the facility such as their clinical and administrative operations of programming in Maricopa, Gila, Yavapai, and Coconino counties.
“I get to travel to Payson, Prescott Valley, and Flagstaff often and I love it,” he says.“ Needless to say, I’ve never been busier in my life, but I truly feel grateful to have landed what I consider a dream job very early in my career. I supervise a fantastic team of directors and really would be nothing without them.”
Since taking the position as Vice President, Miller is working with his clinical team to develop programming specifically for LGBTQ+ adults and adolescents, “I would never take full credit for that though, I have an amazing team that did the majority of that work. We would love to expand this kind of work in rural areas in Arizona where there is less support.”
Since the curve of the pandemic is still moving on an upswing, Miller and his staff are taking care of patients as it is considered an essential business. They have moved the majority of their services to telehealth and telephonic methods of delivery.
“It has been quite the challenge moving everyone over to telehealth seemingly overnight, but I am happy to say we are doing very well through all of the changes and anxiety a pandemic provokes,” Miller explains.
As for more people needing more mental health care services during the pandemic, Miller says the necessity is there especially for people who are already suffering from depression or social isolation. He says it’s “important for them to stay connected and find new ways to cope with challenges at a distance from others.”
In the end, Miller just wants people to be aware of mental health issues and how they intertwine with physical ones. He adds that being informed helps break down stigma and the obstacles to getting important healthcare.
“A lot of gaps in care can be linked to what we call ‘the social determinants of health’ or economic and social conditions that influence health status,” he says, “I would say get involved, know your community and the different agencies doing the work and find out ways to volunteer or help. I always encourage my friends and family to be thoughtful and consider that everyone has their own mental health and physical health journey. You will never know someone and understand how you can help them without openness, empathy, and a willingness to listen to their story told by them. Also, health care workers are truly on the frontlines of this pandemic right now, so if you know one, thank them.”