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Meet Mark Stringer, the Department of Mental Health’s dedicated director

For Mark Stringer, getting into the mental health field almost seemed fated. Growing up, his father would often read about psychology, sharing his education with his son. 

As the director of the Department of Mental Health (DMH), Stringer oversees an organization that serves about 170,000 people — some of the most vulnerable individuals in Missouri — each year. The department has multiple state-operated facilities, including six adult psychiatric hospitals, one children’s psychiatric facility, five long-term care habilitation centers, and six regional and six satellite offices for people with developmental disabilities. 

“What drives me is that we have very vulnerable people we serve with serious mental illness or substance use disorders,” Stringer said. “We treat and serve those folks everyday. That certainly keeps me going, and they need our help and we provide that.” 

A national leader in the mental health field, Stringer was named the DMH director in 2015 after having worked in the department already, first as a deputy director and then as a division director. He is the former president of the National Association of State and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors and recently testified before Congress about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted substance use. He advocated for innovative approaches to adapt during the pandemic, especially to help Black Missourians who were disproportionately affected when it came to overdoses. 

While Stringer has the people he serves at the forefront of his mind, he also has a deep dedication to the staff in the department, praising their strength and tenacity, particularly during the pandemic. 

“If I were king, I would tell people who are interested or would like to be supportive to work a shift at a psychiatric hospital or facility and get a feel for what that’s like,” Stringer said, noting it could be both draining and dangerous for employees to treat people who are very sick. “It’s such demanding work, and outside of our business, you can’t imagine.” 

Stringer was born in Festus, moving around often while growing up before returning to Missouri. He lives in Jefferson City where he does work around the house and is the proud grandfather of two grandchildren.