The feeling of community and shared purpose was palpable at last night’s fourth annual Child Mind Institute Change Maker Awards, which brought together a remarkable slate of honorees in a beautiful setting high above Central Park in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Room.
“Everyone is a winner,” journalist and host of the evening Cynthia McFadden said more than once as groups of nominees including researchers, mental health providers, advocates and family activists rose to be recognized. McFadden, in fact, accepted the Corporate Advocate Award on behalf of her employer, NBCUniversal, for its commitment to telling mental health stories and fighting stigma on its air. As she put it, it makes her proud to work for “a company that knows that to do something well, you must also do good.”
Accepting the Champion Award via video, Gavin Newsom, the Lieutenant Governor of California, was bold about the problem that our current approach to mental health presents. “I live in a state where people say the largest brain health institution is the LA County Jail,” he said. “We need to treat brain health early before we punish it later.”
National Institute of Mental Health Director Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, presented the Outstanding Organization Award to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. “I wouldn’t be standing here today as director of NIMH if BBRF hadn’t jumpstarted my career,” he said. Accepting the award, BBRF director Jeff Borenstein hoped for a day when “no family has to suffer the tragic loss of a loved one to suicide. That day will come as a result of research.”
In the middle of the Change Maker Awards program, a Child Mind Institute patient named Skylar scored the one standing ovation of the evening with her speech about being brave in the face of OCD. It was apparent to everyone in the audience that Skylar is a natural performer, but she said before she received treatment her fears kept her off the stage and miserable. “Now when I get scared,” she told the crowd, “I know lots of ways to calm myself down and distract myself from bad thoughts.”
The Community Builder Award went to To Write Love on Her Arms, whose founder Jamie Tworkowski spoke movingly about the power of community and belonging to counter the isolation that can lead to despair. People’s Choice Award winners Kurt and Tricia Baker spoke about how they founded Attitudes in Reverse to educate students so that their son’s death from suicide would not be in vain.
Accepting the Activist Award at the end of the night, actress Glenn Close spoke movingly about her inspiration for founding Bring Change to Mind: her sister, Jesse, who stood beside her. Close remembered when her sister was young and struggling with bipolar disorder that would go undiagnosed for decades, “when there was no Child Mind Institute, when there was no early intervention.” Now, she told the room, “we need to step it up, all of us.”
Earlier in the evening, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray had presented the Corporate Advocate Award to NBCUniversal. She applauded the “change agents” gathered in the room and made a simple pronouncement about the future they are working towards together. “We need a culture change,” McCray said. And this community is going to make it happen.