Lifesavers Dinner Honorees Symbolize Hope, Courage and Commitment to Suicide Prevention

Funds Raised for Suicide Prevention at 25th Annual Gala Hosted by Mariel Hemingway

05/10/2013

Lifesavers Dinner Honorees Symbolize Hope, Courage and Commitment to Suicide Prevention

Kevin Berthia (center) presents California Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Briggs with the Public Service Award. In 2005, Berthia was on the Golden Gate Bridge contemplating suicide when Briggs convinced him to climb back to safety. © maryannerussell.com

A message of hope filled Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room in New York City on May 8, as AFSP’s 25th Annual Lifesavers Dinner raised over $475,000 for suicide prevention research, education and advocacy, and to support survivors of suicide loss.

The dinner was chaired by Dr. William H. Carson, president and CEO, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization Inc., and Staffan Schüberg, president, Lundbeck Inc., U.S. subsidiary of H. Lundbeck A/S. Actress, author and advocate Mariel Hemingway served as the evening’s host.

“I do not think my message is special in any way. I actually think it is more normal than it is unique,” said Hemingway, who has spoken publicly about the history of mental illness and suicide in her family, as well as her own struggles with depression. “My journey, my struggles, my fears are similar to millions of people around the world, and so getting the message out about mental illness is critical. It’s necessary and it’s done so well by this amazing organization.”

Hemingway and over 250 guests were on hand to honor a public figure who has become a powerful voice for suicide prevention, a heroic civil servant who has saved hundreds of people from taking their own lives, two researchers who have contributed to our understanding of the experience and factors related to suicidal behavior, and the country’s most popular sports league for encouraging its players to seek help.

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My coping mechanism has been to create something new, to add something to this world, to create some form of positive energy. The work is just beginning. Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s end suicide. —Melissa d’Arabian

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This year’s Survivor of Suicide Loss Award was presented to Melissa d’Arabian, host of Food Network’s “Ten Dollar Dinners” and Cooking Channel’s “Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping,” for her role as a leader and powerful spokesperson for suicide prevention.

Melissa is a survivor of suicide loss, having lost her mother. On an episode of “Food Network Star,” she talked about her mother’s suicide and dedicated a recipe to her. Her willingness to share her personal story is encouraging more people to seek treatment and is ultimately helping to reduce stigma. Through her performance on Food Network’s “Chopped,” where she competed for a donation to AFSP, her Ten Dollar Dinners cookbook promotion, and her participation in AFSP’s San Diego Out of the Darkness Community Walk, Melissa has raised funds for the Foundation and elevated the much needed conversation about suicide prevention.

“Twenty-four years ago my mom died by suicide. I was a junior at college. I called her but I didn’t get her voice answering the phone. I got the voice of a strange male who identified himself as being part of the Montgomery County Police Department. We had a very short conversation that I can replay in my head but the bottom line was that she was gone,” d’Arabian said.

“My coping mechanism has been to create something new, to add something to this world, to create some form of positive energy. The work is just beginning. Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s end suicide.”

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All I can say is that I am truly grateful. You gave me an opportunity to live. —Kevin Berthia

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Sgt. Kevin Briggs accepted AFSP’s Public Service Award on behalf of the California Highway Patrol for their work in preventing suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic landmark of San Francisco, but also the site of many suicides over the years. Heroically, Briggs has saved hundreds of people by intervening and successfully talking them out of taking their own lives. By serving the public he is helping to bring awareness to the issue of suicide in his community and nationally, as his story was featured on Yahoo! News.

Kevin Berthia, a man who would have died by suicide eight years ago if not for Briggs, was on hand to present him with the award.

“On March 11, 2005, I drove myself to the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempt to end my life. As I put one leg after the other over the railing of the bridge I saw the face of a man who I now know as Officer Briggs,” Berthia said. “I didn’t want him to try and stop me but now I’m glad he did. All I can say is that I am truly grateful. You gave me an opportunity to live.”

“I am very humbled, honored and happy to be with you to receive this public service award,” Briggs said. “I do so on behalf of the California Highway Patrol and police officers across this country who strive to do their best each and every time they receive a suicide call. During my career I’ve encountered numerous suicide attempts on the Golden Gate Bridge. Of those attempts, I’ve only lost one person. It’s something you never forget.

“Kevin found the courage in himself that day to climb back over the rail, thus beginning a new stage in his life. Here, standing before us, is the reason we do what we do.”

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I am against the stigmatization in this field. It is very important to know that everyone is vulnerable. — Dr. Jules Angst

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“I don’t think you could find a better individual who exemplifies the words ‘achievement in research,’” dinner co-chair Staffan Schüberg said before presenting Dr. Jules Angst with AFSP’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Emeritus professor of psychiatry at Zurich University in Switzerland, Dr. Angst has dedicated nearly 50 years of pioneering research to advance our understanding of mood disorders as risk factors for suicide. He was one of three researchers who first proposed in the 1970s that bipolar disorder should be separated from unipolar disorder and his follow-up research has contributed to that distinction. Among other accomplishments, he and his colleagues were the first to show that active treatment with antidepressants, lithium and antipsychotics reduce the rate of suicide in patients with major depression and bipolar disorder. He is known worldwide for his contributions to psychiatry and has received numerous awards for his groundbreaking research.

“We have a great problem of suicide and suicidality in Switzerland. The suicide rate is about twice of yours. It’s a human problem. I say that because I am against the stigmatization in this field. It is very important to know that everyone is vulnerable,” Angst said.

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We are totally committed to this cause and the advocacy around mental health and suicide prevention. —Troy Vincent

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All-Pro defensive back Troy Vincent, who serves as senior vice president of the NFL Player Engagement organization, accepted AFSP’s Humanitarian Award on behalf of the National Football League.

The NFL is being recognized for its work to encourage help-seeking behavior among its players, their family members and team personnel through its establishment of the NFL Life Line, of which AFSP is a partner. The NFL is also generously supporting neurological research to benefit those who suffer from brain illnesses and need treatment. The leadership the league is providing has brought a new level of national attention to the problem of suicide, which will save lives both within and outside the NFL family.

“We learned a lot in 2012. We lost five family members. Four players and one employee,” Vincent said. “We understand the power of our brand and the influence of our players. We can make a difference.

“In our world, players do not discuss things that will come across as any sign of weakness. But former players, our greats, who at some point in time received treatment, who had suicidal thoughts, are now coming back and speaking to our young men that are active, and to those that are retired. It’s peer-to-peer support, which we learned from the military. We are totally committed to this cause and the advocacy around mental health and suicide prevention.”

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I just wanted to thank AFSP for this honor. I’m incredibly humbled to be receiving this award. —Dr. Maria Oquendo

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This year's Research Award was presented to Dr. Maria Oquendo, whose studies have had a major impact on our understanding of mood disorders as risk factors for suicide.

Dr. Maria Oquendo is professor of psychiatry and vice chair for education and training at Columbia University. She has recently been elected secretary of the American Psychiatric Association and is an associate editor for the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Oquendo’s research has concentrated on mood disorders and the outcome of suicide. She has published some of the most quantitatively precise clinical predictive models of suicidal behavior in major depressive disorders, bipolar disorder and comorbid conditions like PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. She has been the recipient of numerous NIMH grants. Her editorial in AJP is probably the single most important reason that suicidal behavior has become part of DSM-V, a significant step for suicide prevention research.

“I just wanted to thank AFSP for this honor. I’m incredibly humbled to be receiving this award, and very grateful for your support over the years, and I hope to be able to be helpful in your mission going forward,” Oquendo said.