“You’ve come a long way, baby,” the slogan used to introduce Virginia Slims cigarettes in 1968, accurately describes the advances made in treating psychiatric illnesses over the past 30 years.
“The entire field has undergone a metamorphosis,” said Dr. Jeff Kellams, a staff psychiatrist at Eskenazi/Midtown Mental Health Center who treats adults with behavioral issues. “Huge advancements have been made in treatments, medications and psychotherapy.
“The public has taken on a broader understanding of the treatment of mental illnesses. There is no longer the intense stigma associated with mental illness. The turning point came when Eli Lilly’s Prozac hit the market (in early 1988 and co-discovered by Southsiders David Wong and the late Ray Foller). People took it for depression, which was no longer seen as sign of weakness or choice.
“The brain is complicated. It is a large computer sitting on our shoulders, and it has multiple connections.”
Kellams, also a psychiatrist at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital and Eskenazi Health and a professor at IU School of Medicine, graduated magna cum laude from Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) in 1967. He earned his doctorate degree from IU and did an internship at Ball Memorial Hospital and his residency in psychiatry at IU School of Medicine.
He and Drs. Robert Snodgrass and Michael Deal founded Valle Vista Hospital in Greenwood in 1984, and Kellams served as medical director from 1988-98. The facility provided psychiatric and addiction services to children and adults.
“The hospital was unique at the time because it provided the only psychiatric services on the Southside. The hospital was well-received and close to my home,” said Kellams, who lived next to Smock Golf Course at the time.
He and his wife of 39 years, Connie, reared their sons, Christopher and Adrian, there. The boys, both engaged to be married this year, frequently found golf balls in their yard and sold them to golfers. Dr. and Mrs. Kellams moved to the Northside three years ago.
He left Valle Vista to become medical director at Larue D. Carter Memorial Hospital, a position he held until becoming chief of psychiatric services at Wishard Memorial Hospital (now Eskenazi Health) and medical director of Midtown Mental Health Center.
Kellams has since turned his primary focus on treating patients at the center, where he and a team of a dozen professionals pool their expertise to offer the best care possible. “No one person has all the answers to our patients’ needs,” he said. “But we try to make life better for our patients, and we assist families in taking care of their loved ones.
“Psychiatry is truly a legitimate medical specialty. It is just as valuable as any other department in a hospital. In my own opinion, a hospital cannot function without a psychiatry department.
There is a definite shortage of psychiatrists as well as in-patient care and psychiatric emergency care. There is a huge need for these services. You don’t have to look too far to see someone who needs psychiatric help.”
Kellams, who has published psychiatrically, has worked in psychiatric research with his colleagues over the years.
Interestingly, he was named Southport High School’s Alumnus of the Year in 2012.
Rex Joseph, a retired attorney and the 1999 honoree, and his wife, Carol, said Kellams is a good man for his profession. “He is as smart as a whip and is very committed to the treatment of mental illness. He would very much like to conquer it. We have had mutual clients (patients) over the years who tell me that he is a good listener and devoted to his profession. He and his wife are extremely generous.”
Mr. Joseph and Kellams, both known for their great sense of humor, have been friends for nearly 65 years – since the third grade at Southport School. Joseph’s daughter, Becky, served as the flower girl at Kellams’ wedding in 1979.
Kellams said the only time he thinks about retirement is on Monday mornings. “But I don’t really entertain the thought seriously. This is a rewarding profession, and I feel good about what I’m doing. I’m healthy, mentally alert and I know that my patients still need me. The public can benefit from what I can still do for them.”