NAMI Salutes Prominent Figures For Their Courage In Working To End Stigma Against Mental Illness

Feb 25 1998

Washington, D.C. - Members of Congress and prominent figures from the fields of law, medicine and journalism were honored today by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) for their courage in publicly disclosing their experiences with the devastating effects of severe mental illness and their continued efforts to end stigma by openly discussing the impact serious brain disorders have had on their lives. The five honorees included Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Ellen Hart Peña, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Representative Lynn Rivers (D-MI) and Tracy Thompson.

"The tireless and courageous efforts of these individuals are shining examples for us all," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "Their honest and personally painful stories give renewed strength and hope to the millions of Americans still hurting in the shadows of stigma. We look forward to the day when disclosing one's mental illness is as commonly accepted as revealing one's arthritis or high blood pressure. Our honorees show that the challenges of mental illness can be faced through self-acceptance and society's open acknowledgement."

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has authored more than 100 medical texts on mood disorders, suicide, psychotherapy and lithium. Her most recent book, An Unquiet Mind, which chronicles her own experience with manic-depressive illness, received several literary awards and is currently under development as a feature film with Universal Studios.

Ellen Hart Peña, an attorney, was a consultant for the ABC Movie of the Week, "Dying To Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Peña Story," a film depicting her own battle with bulimia. She currently serves on the Harvard Eating Disorders Center advisory board and has written several articles on overcoming eating disorders.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), whose father suffered from depression and ultimately committed suicide, is known as an outspoken advocate on mental health issues in both his home state of Nevada and on Capitol Hill. A long-time NAMI advocate, Senator Reid last year sponsored S-84, a Senate Resolution calling for a national suicide prevention plan.

Representative Lynn Rivers (D-MI), also a long-time NAMI advocate, worked for many years in her home state on mental health issues and supported the Michigan Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Representative Rivers also valiantly announced her 24-year battle with manic-depressive illness in the final days of her 1994 campaign.

Tracy Thompson, a reporter with The Washington Post and author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression, has fought a life-long battle with depression. A suicide attempt in 1990 led her for the first time to seek appropriate medical treatment. Ms. Thompson now divides her time between her work for The Post and speaking engagements around the country on depression and the lingering public stigma.

Mistress of Ceremonies Marianne Ginter Gingrich and Robert Boorstin, senior advisor to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, presented the awards at NAMI's HelpLine Benefit, held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Long an advocate of volunteerism, Mrs. Gingrich praised the NAMI HelpLine. "People reaching out to NAMI for help always find reassuring and knowledgeable volunteers who have navigated their own way through the painful and frustrating experience of coping with a severe mental illness," said Gingrich. "In addition to saluting tonight's honorees, we're also celebrating the remarkable achievements of NAMI's HelpLine and its incredible army of volunteers who have helped more than 300,000 Americans in the last eight years. The NAMI HelpLine has been a true lifeline to thousands of Americans."

The NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-NAMI) is a toll-free information and referral service that provides emotional support, referrals to local organizations, and information about disorders and their treatment for the more than 60,000 callers who contact NAMI each year. Staffed by volunteers, the NAMI HelpLine is accessible in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

With more than 172,000 members, NAMI is the nation's leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI's efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for nondiscriminatory and equitable federal, state and private-sector policies; research into the causes, symptoms and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma surrounding severe mental illness.