Inaugural ‘Shatter the Stigma’ Gala Raises Support for Treatment of Mental Health Disorders

In an effort to bring awareness to the approximately 61.5 million Americans who experience some form of mental illness each year, a first-of-its-kind gala was held recently to benefit the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The inaugural Shatter the Stigma gala was held October 8 to support the department’s research and programs, and to help get the conversation started about mental health.

“Tonight’s event is so important to our efforts to transform the way we battle mental illness,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth. “Educating the public is so important to erasing the widespread stigma associated with mental disorders.”

The gala was held at the de la Cruz Collection in Miami’s Design District. Guests included business and community leaders, along with mental health professionals. Led by a volunteer committee headed by honorary chairs Sherry and Harley Tropin, committee chair Donna Bitterman Shepard, and hosting chairs Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, the gala was an attempt to educate and engage the community.

“Mental disorders are not about mystery,” said Carlos de la Cruz, who is also a senior UM trustee. “It’s about behavior and a part of the body – the brain. I think if we remove the word ‘psychiatry’ and think about everything in terms of the behavioral sciences, then it should not be stigmatized.”

The reality is, in the United States alone, approximately 1 in 25 adults – or 13.6 million people – experience a severe mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits major life activities. Almost reaching epidemic proportions, mental illness touches many lives, yet is vastly underfunded.

Shatter the Stigma raised awareness of the department’s response to the state of mental health and the stigma surrounding it. Florida is ranked #50 in mental health funding in the United States, and as a result, the community is sorely lacking in resources, services, and treatment.

UM’s answer is a nationally renowned, well-managed and caring Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which specializes in diagnosing treatment-resistant or difficult to diagnose patients through a comprehensive, diagnostic and treatment evaluation program.

Under the leadership of Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., the department has made great strides in increasing the number of programs and services available to patients. Its team of world-class faculty members had more than 25,000 outpatient encounters last year for the treatment of everything from addiction and depression to autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and post-traumatic stress syndrome disorder.

“With 280 inpatient beds, among the most in the nation, a day-treatment center on the horizon, and more than 13 divisions, centers, and programs, the department is well-positioned and ready to address the needs of the community, the state of Florida, and beyond,” said Nemeroff, the Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the Center on Aging. “With more than 60 active grants, our researchers are making strides in the causes and treatment of schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, aging, and drug and alcohol abuse. We are developing novel treatments and even looking at links between depression and inflammation and how genetics play a role in suicide and other mental illnesses.”

Highlights of the evening included a luxury silent auction and a performance by comedian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dave Barry who delivered a humorous take on running for president. Like so many others, Barry has witnessed mental illness first-hand in his family.

“As somebody who has had mental illness affect their family more than once, I’m so grateful to know what the University of Miami Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is doing to shatter the stigma,” he said.

Harley Tropin, who served as the honorary co-chair of the gala, said he was pleased to see the outpouring of community support for Dr. Nemeroff and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“It’s obvious that they all rally behind the idea of shattering the stigma and helping raise more resources,” said Tropin.

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