2020 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health Honors Global Advocates for the Poor and Children with Psychiatric Illness

Posted: January 13, 2021
2020 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health Honors Global Advocates for the Poor and Children with Psychiatric Illness

On September 30, 2020 BBRF announced the winners of the 2020 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health. This year’s winners are: Myrna Weissman, Ph.D, for her transformative work in the mental health care of disadvantaged persons suffering from depression; and Sir Michael Rutter, CBE, for advancing our understanding of and treatments for mental health problems in children.

An Honorary Pardes Humanitarian Prize was also awarded, to E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., for promoting the biological basis of mental illness.

The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health carries an honorarium of $150,000, and is awarded annually to recognize individuals whose contributions have made a profound and lasting impact in advancing the understanding of mental health and improving the lives of people with mental illness. It focuses public attention on the burden mental illness places on individuals and society, and the urgent need to expand mental health services globally.

In making the announcement, Dr. Herbert Pardes, President of BBRF’s Scientific Council and for whom the prize is named, said, “Recipients of this year’s Pardes Prize have used their scientific knowledge, understanding of human behavior, and compassion to improve the lives of millions of people with mental illness, including children and people living in poverty. Through their work, we broaden the scope of mental illness treatment around the world and the use of knowledge for the betterment of our diverse global family.”

Dr. Myrna Weissman’s humanitarian efforts reflect a deep personal commitment to both scientific excellence and bringing change to the world. Her transformative work has advanced the field of behavioral interventions for depression, including the development and dissemination of Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), one of the most effective standardized approaches for treatment of depression in children, adults, and women post-partum. Her humanitarian spirit is exemplified by her donation of the copyright for IPT to the World Health Organization. Her visionary contributions have had a lasting and profound impact on individuals, families and the global community.

Dr. Weissman received her Ph.D. in epidemiology from Yale University School of Medicine in 1974. She is currently a Professor of Epidemiology in Psychiatry, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Dr. Weissman’s research career has focused on studying depression in families, seeking ways to break the cycle of transmission across generations and to develop better understanding of the mechanisms underlying transmission. Her current research, using methods of epidemiology, genetics, and neuroimaging, focuses on understanding the long-term risks of mood and anxiety disorders in individuals and transmitted to families.

Inspired by her research, Dr. Weissman’s humanitarian effort globally and in the U.S. has been transformative in the mental health care of disadvantaged persons suffering from depression. She developed IPT with her late husband, Gerald Klerman, M.D., and, since his death in 1992, she has simplified and implemented it for health workers around the world. IPT addresses depression associated with disruption of attachments due to grief, disputes, transitions, or loneliness. These problems are universal and common in persons suffering natural disasters, war, and forced dislocation.

She also adapted IPT for African countries and donated the copyright to the World Health Organization. She participated in the first clinical trial of psychotherapy in sub- Saharan Africa, and modified IPT for the study. She actively contributes to Strong Minds, a humanitarian effort, providing IPT to over 70,000 depressed, impoverished women in Uganda and Zambia. This effort has won a number of major international awards. She also participates in an NIH-funded implementation project, PRIDE-SSA, which will improve mental health services in Mozambique.

The transformative work of Professor Sir Michael Rutter, also known as the “father of child psychiatry,” has challenged existing theories and allowed for a major change in earlier ideas about the relationship between maternal deprivation and mental health. Sir Michael’s pioneering contributions to our understanding of mental resilience, the effects of maternal and institutional deprivation on subsequent mental health, and the turning points in adult life following psychosocial adversity in childhood have had a lasting and profound impact on individuals, families, and the global community.

Professor Rutter was trained in general medicine, neurology, and pediatrics before specializing in psychiatry. He was appointed the first consultant of child psychiatry in the UK and has been head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, and Honorary Director of the Medical Research Council Child Psychiatry Unit.

His studies of autism, depression, antisocial behavior, reading difficulties, deprived children, overactive children, school effectiveness, and children whose psychiatric problems have a clear organic component have resulted in many publications. One of the most influential is Maternal Depression Reassessed, in which he argues that it is the norm for children to form multiple attachments rather than a selective attachment to just one person.

Professor Rutter is recognized as contributing to the establishment of child psychiatry as a medical and biopsychosocial specialty with a strong scientific base. In 1994, he established the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry. The goal of the center is to bridge the gap between “nature” (genetics) and “nurture” (environment) as they interact in the development of complex human behavior, for example in depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Professor Rutter was knighted in 1992 and is an honorary member of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a founding Fellow of the Academia Europea and the Academy of Medical Sciences. The Michael Rutter Centre for Children and Adolescents at the Maudsley Hospital, London was named in his honor.

Dr. Torrey is a model of citizen activism, a scientific leader and a fearless advocate for people living with mental illness and their families. His extraordinary contributions have had a profound impact on advancing the understanding of mental illness and educating the public about the biological basis of serious mental illness and the need to improve the treatment system. He is a tireless advocate for policy and legislative change and a champion of the mental illness advocacy movement.

He is currently Associate Director at The Stanley Medical Research Institute, where he is investigating the causes and treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, including ongoing collaborative research on infectious agents as a cause of these diseases.

In the 1970s Dr. Torrey introduced what was then a radically new and revolutionary approach, an infective/inflammatory etiology and pathophysiology of mental illness. Over the years, this hypothesis has led to the testing of many new treatments for mental illness. Dr. Torrey’s early work on inflammation and infection in mental illness has been transformative, as hundreds of researchers and hundreds of millions of grant dollars are now devoted to research in this field. Antiinflammatory and antibiotic drugs are being studied as potential treatments.

His other major contribution is in education and advocacy. For 40 years he has been responsible for hundreds of public lectures, radio and TV shows, reports by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Treatment Advocacy Center, editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor. He has written five books, all intended to educate the public about the biological basis of serious mental illness.

BBRF President & CEO Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein noted that “Dr. Weissman, Professor Rutter, and Dr. Torrey exemplify what it means to be world-class behavioral scientists and humanitarians. We were delighted to honor them for their outstanding commitment in the pursuit to alleviate the pain and suffering of mental illness. All three of this year’s recipients inspire us all to use our knowledge towards the greater good for all humanity.”

The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health is sponsored in part by Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

Written By Lauren Duran

Click here to read the Brain & Behavior Magazine's December 2020 issue