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For Immediate Release: May 8, 2015
Contact: Erin Wallace, 571-319-9594,

Mental Health America Announces Winners of 2015 Awards
Organization Will Honor and Celebrate Recipients at Annual Conference in June

Alexandria, VA—Mental Health America (MHA) will honor an impressive group of individuals, public officials, media outlets and innovative programs next month at its 2015 Annual Conference: Intervention and Innovation Before Stage 4 in Alexandria, Virginia on June 3-5, 2015. Throughout the three days MHA will present the Clifford W. Beers Award, the Legislator Award, the Innovation in Programming Award, the youth-focused mPower Award, and the Media Award.

“We applaud all these honorees and all those who were nominated for their invaluable commitment and contributions to the mental health field,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “Their work and accomplishments have made a major difference in the lives of people living with mental health and substance use conditions.”

MHA’s highest honor, the Clifford W. Beers Award, will be presented to advocate Sue Bergeson. The Clifford W. Beers Award is presented annually to mental health consumers who best reflect the example set by MHA founder  Clifford W. Beers in his or her efforts to improve conditions for and attitudes toward people living with mental health conditions. Sue Bergeson’s contributions in the field of behavioral health have saved lives of people living in recovery from mental illness and addiction, and transformed state systems and providers to promote recovery, resiliency and the peer workforce. Sue currently serves as the National Vice President, Consumer and Family Affairs for OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions, a division of United Health Care. Sue is charged with overseeing public sector network operations by providing guidance, strategy and fostering a culture of recovery and resiliency. She promotes practices that are anchored in the belief that people with mental illness are able to live, act, work and participate productively in their communities despite their disabilities, and are resilient and able to rebound from trauma, stigma and other stresses with a sense of mastery. Bergeson’s work with OptumHealth is informed by her personal experience both as a family member and as a consumer.

MHA’s 2015 mPower Award goes to a team of young women from the Kennewick, WA TriTech Skills Center for their creation of the Safe&Sound app. Nominated by their Tri-Tech Instructor Kristel Kinder, Amanda Arellano (18-years-old), Stephanie Lopez (17), Marina Stepanov (17), Chloe Westphal (17) were among four student groups nationally to win the Verizon Innovative App Challenge earlier this year.  The Safe&Sound app concept brings mental health awareness and resources for teens. Inspired by personal experiences and recent school shootings—including one in their home state—the team knew that the app could help teens express their feelings in a safe way and reach out for help when needed. Features for this app include daily stress management, information on stress, anxiety, depression, journaling, and resources. Safe&Sound will be a functioning, downloadable app by June 2015. The award will be presented at MHA’s Clifford Beers Awards Dinner on June 4 and Chloe Westphal will be at the dinner to accept the award on behalf of the team.

MHA’s Innovation in Programming Award, which recognizes the continuing innovation and creativity of the MHA affiliate network in program development and implementation, goes to MHA of Wisconsin and its innovative program Strong Families Healthy Homes (SFHH). SFHH is a preventative and comprehensive visitation program that provides care for the whole family. This program is strength-based, family-driven and follows a recovery model of service and core belief that healthy family bonds create natural supports for sustaining wellness. The program is staffed by Master’s Level mental health professionals who have received orientation and training in the SFHH model and the MHA developed home-visit toolkit. The Family Advocate partners with the family, wraps intensive case management and recovery support services around the entire family and provides advocacy and support for all the systems the family is involved. Currently the SFHH model serves families an average of 24 months. SFHH is the only community program in Wisconsin that specifically targets parents with mental illness with integrated support, education, and individual advocacy services as they struggle to parent their children and hold their family together through a difficult illness.

MHA’s 2015 Legislator Award goes to two women who have shown incredible leadership on the local level in advocating for change in mental health services. Former Wisconsin State Representative Sandy Pasch is a former Democratic member, representing District 10 from 2008 to 2015. Pasch served as State Assembly Assistant Minority Leader from 2013 to 2015. Prior to running elected office, Pasch worked for years on mental health issues, in volunteer capacities and as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, Assistant Professor at the Columbia College of Nursing, and a Community Health Nurse. During her time as a legislator, Sandy served on multiple committees with jurisdiction over mental health issues and was instrumental in the passage of the Wisconsin Parity Act.

Beth Harwell is the current Speaker of the House in the Tennessee House of Representatives.  She serves as Tennessee State Representative from Nashville and was the Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2001 through 2004. A member of the Tennessee House of Representatives since 1988, Harwell was a ranking Republican in the House (former Minority Whip) and Commerce Committee chairwoman. She is the first woman to serve as Tennessee's Speaker of the House. Speaker Harwell has been a long-time champion for mental health, serving in 1988 on the board of the Luton Center, a community mental health center (CMHC) that is now part of Centerstone, the nation’s largest CMHC. As Speaker, Harwell has continued her support of mental health issues and in 2011 joined the board of Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee.

MHA ‘s 2015 Media Award will be presented to journalist Yochi Dreazen, ESPN’s program Outside the Lines, and NBC4. The Media Awards will be presented during the conference at the 2015 Media Awards Luncheon on June 4. Yochi Dreazen is the managing editor for news at Foreign Policy, and author of The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War. The book chronicles the compelling story of Major General (ret.) Mark Graham and his wife Carol as they faced  unimaginable tragedy after losing two sons—one to suicide and one to combat. The book brings to light not only the tragedy of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder throughout the military, but also the evolution of how the institution and its leaders are dealing with this crisis. ESPN’s Outside the Lines story in 2014 of College Athletes and Mental Health: Sasha’s Story drew attention to the tragic suicide of University of Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, and her unanswered cries for help to University of Missouri officials. ESPN shared the story of Sasha—a beautiful and talented swimmer who battled mental health issues and ultimately took her own life when she couldn’t find the help she needed.  NBC4, the Washington, DC NBC affiliate spent 2014 discussing the issues surrounding mental health, through its year-long Changing Mind series. Led by anchor Doreen Gentzler, the campaign has drawn significant attention to the needs of those struggling with mental health issues, and continues to provide education and information on a variety of mental health topics.  Major General (ret.) Mark and Carol Graham, as well as the parents of Sasha Menu Courey, will be MHA’s special guests at the Media Awards luncheon.

“We look forward to gathering next month in Alexandria, Virginia and celebrating these amazing award winners,” concluded Gionfriddo. “These noteworthy awardees join an already impressive line-up of speakers and participants at this year’s conference. We are excited to elevate the discussion of how we can all work together to address mental health before Stage 4.”

For more information and to register for the Mental Health America 2015 Annual Conference, click here.


Mental Health America is the nation’s leading community-based non-profit dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. Our work is driven by our commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, integrated care and treatment for those who need it, with recovery as the goal.