Champions Of Mental Health – Second Annual Mental Health Awards

Kristen Monahan

Most people will have some degree of contact with me with mental illness in their lifetime either directly or through family members. According to the National Association of Mental Illness, more than 17 million American adults have some type of affective or mood disorder in any given year. Last year, David Satcher, M.D., issued the first Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, which indicated that mental disorders account for more than 15% of all disabilities nationally. And mental illness isn’t restricted to the U.S.: 400 million people worldwide suffer mental or neurological disorders or psychosocial problem, according to the World Health Organization.

With depression and other behavioral and emotional disorders so Prevalent, Psychology Today is pleased to announced our Second Annual Mental Health Awards, which recognize Americans, both celebrated and unknown, who have helped, improve mental health. Nominations were sought in eight categories (advocate, business leader, caregiver, government official, media professional, mental health professional, researcher and survivor) from hundreds of top mental health professional, with final selections made by our editors, both psychologists and journalists. Our eight winners will be presented with “The Psi,” a statuette designed for Psychology Today by California artist Richard Becerra that symbolizes personal growth and renewal.


Born in 1913 and raised in New York City, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., didn’t always want to be a psychologist. After earning a business administration degree, Ellis went into the business of matching pants to old suit jackets. But he much preferred dispensing advice about sex, and so enrolled at Columbia University in 1942 to study psychology.

Ellis soon opened a practice for family and sex counseling, utilizing Freudian psychoanalysis. Frustrated with its passive nature, he began developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a much more active and direct approach. With it, patients learn to recognize the negative consequences of troubling past experiences and related irrational beliefs, and are helped to understand the positive effects of rational thinking. Ellis also stresses the importance of “unconditional self-acceptance.” Self-evaluation, he says, can lead to depression and anger.

Since developing REBT, Ellis has published more than 60 books and 600 articles on the subject. He also established the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City in 1959, where therapists are trained and certified in REBT. According to the Institute, more than 12,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors worldwide now practice Ellis’ approach.

At 87, Ellis still sees about 70 patients a week and lectures worldwide. He recently disclosed to Psychology Today that advancing age won’t stop this determined therapist. When he can no longer tour, he plans to give workshops in New York City; intending, as he says, “to die in the saddle seat.”

–Kristen Monahan


As former chairman of Pacific Lutheran University’s psychology department, Brian Baird, Ph.D. (D-WA), brings to Congress a unique perspective on mental health. Since first elected to Congress in 1998, Baird, a licensed clinical psychologist, has taken a leadership role on mental health issues.

“When I was trying to choose a career in college, I wanted to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives,” Baird recalls. “Psychology was a natural vehicle to make a difference, and Congress is another way.”

Throughout his career, Baird has practiced privately and worked in psychiatric hospitals, community mental health clinics and children’s psychiatric units. Since elected, he cosponsored the Mental Health Parity Bill, designed to close the insurance gap between those receiving mental health treatment and those receiving medical or surgical treatment. He sponsored the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which aims to allow greater individual control over health care services and guarantees the right to choose a doctor. Baird has also participated in White House conferences to increase public understanding of mental illness and its societal impact.

Recently, Baird assisted in developing the Congressional Caucus on Health and Behavior, which will promote important research findings that promise to improve Americans’ health and quality of life. Baird also strongly supports the Decade of Behavior, an initiative launched last September that promotes public appreciation for behavioral and social sciences’ contribution to the nation’s well-being.

Baird now focuses on improving mental health services to students, and he encourages the public to get involved in the political process. “Only through political involvement can we convince Congress and this administration that mental health issues are absolutely critical,” he says.

–Irena Choi Stern


While riding her bicycle in 1988, Claudia Osborn, D.O., a professor of osteopathic and clinical medicine at Michigan State University (MSU) and a practicing physician, collided head-on with an automobile. In the hospital, Osborn assured her doctors that she had suffered only a slight concussion and would be fine. But that was tar from the truth.

Soon, Osborn noticed she had no short-term memory and had problems processing information. Finally realizing she was suffering from traumatic brain injury, Osborn spent two years in New York University’s brain trauma program learning how to cope with the injury’s behavioral and emotional effects. She developed strategies for overcoming the problems associated with her short-term memory loss, such as using notes and alarms to remind her to walk the dog.

Throughout the program, Osborn kept a journal of her experiences, including her depression upon discovering she could no longer work as a physician. For seven years, Osborn transformed her journal into a book, eventually publishing Over My Head (Andrews McMeel, 1998), a funny and insightful story recounting the new life she had created.

“I wrote a book that I wish someone had written for me,” Osborn says. “I wanted people to understand that there was a reason to hope. It makes sense to aspire to the improbable.”

Currently, Osborn speaks worldwide about the issues concerning head traumas. She also enjoys cooking and gardening, activities for which she previously had no inclination. As Osborn says, “I have a wonderful life, [although] it’s a very different life. You have to recognize that you’re not going to regain what you’ve lost, but you can take steps and move forward into creating a new life.”

–Amy Weiss


“Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?” Since “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted on PBS in 1968, millions have watched Fred McFeely Rogers, better known as “Mister Rogers,” open each episode by singing this invitation.

Always a music lover, Rogers graduated from Florida’s Rollins College with a degree in music composition. Later, while pursuing a career in television production, he secured an apprenticeship with NBC in New York City to learn more about it.

“When I first saw what was called `children’s television’ in the early 1950s, I thought it was just slapstick and nonsense,” Rogers says. “I felt children deserved better.” So he began working at a local television station while attending the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development. He eventually created his program, writing the songs for each episode, with lyrics like, you’re learning how important you are/how important each person you see can be/discovering each one’s specialty/is the most important thing–all serving to bolster a child’s self-esteem and self-awareness.

“The more I learned about the `inner dramas’ of childhood, the more convinced I became that at our very core as human beings is the need to know we are capable of giving and receiving love,” Rogers says. His ideas have since earned him several major awards including two George Foster Peabody Awards, lifetime achievement awards from the Daytime Emmys, Parents’ Choice Awards and the Action for Children’s Television Award.

After generating nearly 1,000 episodes, Rogers will stop creating new ones this August. But he will continue his advocacy for children through his media company, Family Communications Inc., which he hopes will help foster healthy communication within families.

–Irena Choi Stern


Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., grew up in a poor Sicilian family and was surrounded by racial prejudice in a South Bronx ghetto. Inspired by his childhood experiences, Zimbardo studied and now teaches about a wide variety of human behaviors and characteristics, including violence, dissonance, shyness, madness and persuasion.

Zimbardo’s most famed study is the Stanford Prison Experiment. Conducted in 1971, it was cut short after only six days when the 24 male college participants internalized their assigned roles as either prisoners or guards to a cruel extreme. This research demonstrated the power of social situations to influence personal identities and morals.

Based on his research, Zimbardo established an experimental treatment center to help shyness sufferers at Stanford University in 1975. Now called the Shyness Clinic, it helps clients throughout the community improve aspects of their social functioning. His related book, Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It (Addison Wesley, 1977), is currently in its seventh printing. In addition, Zimbardo’s textbook, Psychology and Life (Longman, 2000), is in its 16th edition and is the oldest continuously selling psychology textbook in the U.S.

Zimbardo’s research has earned him several awards, including the California State Psychological Association’s Distinguished Research Contributor Award in 1977 and the Guze Award for Best Research in Hypnosis in 1989. Widely recognized for his 33 years of inspirational teaching, he most recently received the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Robert Daniels Teaching Excellence Award.

Having recently been elected to the presidency of the APA, Zimbardo continues to teach psychology at Stanford. Does he have any plans to take a break? “Not likely,” he says. “That little, skinny kid who survived a traumatic youth still lives in this rather bulky old body, still full of energy, still optimistic, still ready to make a difference.”

–Carin Gorrell


After learning that two of her three children had been diagnosed with autism, Catherine Maurice watched with despair as both her son and daughter lost their words, understanding and smiles. She tried various therapies to slow the progression of the disorder, including “holding therapy,” which is based on the painful premise that autism results from faulty bonding between mother and child. But nothing seemed to help.

Then Maurice read an article in Psychology Today on Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. Lovaas had studied the effects of applied behavior analysis–a comprehensive behavioral approach to basic life lessons–on severely autistic children. In his studies, after two years of working with 19 children for 40 hours a week, nine of them showed significant advances in their social, cognitive and academic skills and scored within the range of normal intelligence. In comparison, none of the 19 autistic children who received only 10 hours a week of the same therapy achieved a normal IQ.

Stunned by these results, Maurice implemented the principles of behavior analysis with her own children. Today, both her teenage son and daughter are academically and socially successful, have recovered from autism and don’t meet any of the disorder’s diagnostic criteria.

But her work was far from over. Worried that information about behavior analysis wasn’t readily available to parents in similar situations, Maurice, who has a Ph.D. in literary criticism, decided to write Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family’s Triumph Over Autism (Fawcett, 1994). In it, she describes the unsuccessful treatment methods she had tried, the bad advice she received and how behavior analysis ultimately helped her children. “My book takes the reader through all the uncertainty you [have] as a parent,” Maurice says, “and the crazy therapies that are out there.”

Today, Maurice presides over the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, which works to disseminate accurate information about autism and improve access to scientifically sound treatments. “Information is only part of the picture; people also need help in trying to access any kind of effective treatment,” Maurice explains. “We have a very ambitious mission. We’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

–Amy Weiss


Over the years, John Pepper has devoted himself to nurturing a positive self-image among Cincinnati youth and preparing them for successful careers. He supports a wide variety of programs, including Every Child Succeeds, which focuses on enhancing a child’s cognitive and social development. Among corporate executives, Pepper, chair of Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, has distinguished himself by his strong commitment to the emotional development and well-being of children and young adults.

As vice chair of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative and a board member of the Partnership for a Drug Free America and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Pepper works to increase the percentage of inner-city high school graduates. According to Pepper, “I want to help individuals to develop their full potential–through understanding, mutual caring and support; by taking action to promote healthy development for children.”

Pepper next intends to tackle America’s historic legacy of slavery in the hope that increased understanding will promote racial harmony and contribute to society’s overall well-being. Alongside Reverend Andrew Young, a former United Nations Ambassador, Pepper co-chairs the development campaign for The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This $106 million museum and research/education center is due to open in late 2003.

“In the 21st century, the United States shall overcome the legacy of slavery,” reads the vision statement for the center. “We will create a society where shame gives way to pride, oppression bows to freedom, and every individual is encouraged to learn, to grow and to contribute. Our nation will serve as a beacon, celebrating the oneness of the human spirit in the ongoing quest for freedom around the world.”

The center has already begun honoring individuals for their contributions to racial understanding with its annual Underground Conductor Awards. The first two recipients were Rosa Parks and South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu. Under Pepper’s leadership, The Freedom Center will continue to dedicate its efforts toward healing the racial divide in America.

–Irena Choi Stern


Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has devoted more than 30 years to educating the public about the causes of mental disorders and to lobbying for adequate insurance coverage. Many of Carter’s initiatives have been written into law–for instance, she was honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which helped pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.

“It has been gratifying to see the progress that has been made,” Carter says. “But there is still much to accomplish to improve the quality of life for those who suffer.” To this end, she co-wrote the book Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends and Caregivers (Times, 1999) with Susan Golant. This resource won the American Society of Journalists and Authors award for the best self-help book of 1999.

Widely recognized for her time and dedication, Carter is an American Psychiatric Association Honorary Fellow and was the National Mental Health Association’s Volunteer of the Decade. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

Carter now chairs the Carter Center Mental Health Task Force, as well as the World Federation for Mental Health’s Committee of International Women Leaders for Mental Health, comprised of first ladies, royalty and heads of state. At 73, she remains confident that improving the lives of those facing mental illness is highly attainable.

–Irena Choi Stern

COPYRIGHT 2001 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

You May Also Like

Calculated Risks: How to Know When the Numbers Deceive You.

Calculated Risks: How to Know When the Numbers Deceive You. – book review Paul Chance Simon & Schuster, $25 Should you have …

All talk – quotations from selected interviews

All talk – quotations from selected interviews – Interview In the three decades since Psychology Today published its first issue, candor …

Stress Less, Sneeze Less – ways to avoid—and treat—allergies

Stress Less, Sneeze Less – ways to avoid—and treat—allergies – Brief Article Kenneth Bock It’s fall once again, and the symptoms …

Shoeless in San Diego

Shoeless in San Diego – Editorial Robert Epstein Roadblocks on the way to love THIS AFTERNOON, JUST AS I WAS ABOUT TO TAKE M…