Dr. Jeannette “Lia” Gaggino is working to change the conversation about children’s mental health with her podcast, Pediatric Meltdown. Gaggino, who was a pediatrician with Bronson Healthcare for more than 30 years, started the podcast in August 2020 as a way to share her knowledge of adolescent behavior and mental health with other health-care practitioners as well as parents and caretakers of children.
“At the time I started as a pediatrician, treatment for mental health for children was pretty limited,” says Gaggino, who retired in 2020. ”I wanted to focus on adolescent health, and a lot of adolescent health is behavioral health.”
From a makeshift recording booth in a closet in her home, Gaggino interviews experts and parents about issues such as kids’ weight, struggling in school, mood and anxiety disorders, social media, working and wellness. Gaggino posts new episodes almost every week through Streamlined Podcasts and she currently has nearly 70 podcasts available on Spotify, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
When did you know that you wanted to be a doctor?
I didn’t really think about being a doctor until my senior year of high school. I loved my physiology class, and my teacher said, “Have you ever thought about being a doctor?” And it was, like, “Oh, that seems like a great idea!” So, it was really because of my teacher.
When did you decide to become a pediatrician?
I had a friend who was a midwife, and I went on a bunch of home births with her, and I really thought that’s what I wanted to do. As I did rotations in my final few years of medical school, I realized that as much as I loved births, I really felt like I would be too worried about something going wrong at a home birth. I thought pediatricians were just, like, happy with their jobs and what’s not to like about kids? It has just been such a good fit for me.
What made you want to focus on adolescent behavior?
I have struggled with anxiety my whole life, and there’s some mental health issues in my family and extended family as well. I was from a family of all girls, and when I first started out, I was the only woman in my practice. I have two daughters as well, and I was very aware that body image and eating disorders are a concern for girls.
I was doing an activity with a group of girls, and we were talking about nutrition, self-image, social media and how girls are portrayed. And we talked about how the American Girl Co. really focused on what girls could do and play and wasn’t sexualized at all. I wrote to American Girl and said, “Hey, if you ever want to do something about this topic, please call me,” and they called me. They wrote a really lovely book, The Body Book: The Care and Keeping of You, and I was their content reviewer.
I also was just interested in people’s stories, and that’s really evolved over time. So much of emotional health has to do with our own experiences.
What made you want to start a podcast?
In May 2020, I was a guest on the podcast Mighty Parenting with host Sandy Fowler, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought, “Hey, I can do this too,” and that’s how it started. My daughter’s fiancé owns a podcast management company and helped with all the logistics of it.
What do you hope your audience will get out of the podcast?
Sometimes it’s just a pearl. Maybe there’s something that they might think differently about or will be like, “Oh, I could try that. Or that’s interesting.” And awareness. I did several episodes around perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and postpartum and women of color.
Also practical stuff, like how to ask about suicidal ideation, along with parents’ perspectives and patient perspectives. It’s a pretty wide range of topics, but I hope that they’ll find something that lights their passion.
I just hope that people get as excited about the information that I can put out there as I do.
I think the biggest thing is that it’s important for people to have a purpose and mission in life. For me, I can’t think of a better one than doing something that makes the world better for kids.
— Interview by Maggie Drew, edited for length and clarity