May 22, 2006

2006 Welcome Back Awards Winners Honored for Helping Reshape the Mental Health System

-- Five Individuals from Across the U.S. Recognized at a National Ceremony--

When Gayathri Ramprasad sought medical help for her depression nearly 20 years ago, she was shocked to find herself in solitude in a hospital room, forced to deal with her darkest moments alone. She remembers thinking, "it’s not me who is mad, it’s the system." Since then, she has devoted her life to raising awareness of depression and educating patients and professionals on the benefits of treating the whole person, not just the illness. Eli Lilly and Company is proud to honor Ms. Ramprasad, along with four other inspiring honorees, at the eighth annual Welcome Back Awards ceremony in Toronto, Canada, held on Saturday, May 20.

Each year, an independent committee of mental health leaders chooses five honorees to receive a Welcome Back Award for their commitment to helping others in the depression community. Committee member and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, Rodrigo Muñoz, M.D., comments on this year’s unique honorees: "They looked at the mental health system, saw a problem, and sought to fix it," he states. "They have become agents of change -- heroes to those they help and role models to their peers in the depression community."

The 2006 Welcome Back Awards honorees are:

Lifetime Achievement: Gayathri Ramprasad, M.B.A, Portland, Ore.

In the nearly 20 years since Ms. Ramprasad overcame the shame and stigma of depression, she has worked endlessly to ensure that no one feels the loneliness she felt in that hospital room. In addition to raising awareness at local hospitals, she has played an integral role on the national level with several mental health campaigns, including NAMI Walks and the Silver Ribbon Campaign for the Brain. She is currently producing a documentary called BrainStorm: Mental Illness in America. In the fall of 2006, Ms. Ramprasad hopes to fulfill her goal of spreading awareness around the world as she begins a world-tour,  Rally for Recovery, starting in India, the country of her birth, where the stigma of mental illness remains prevalent.

Psychiatry: Mark Ragins, M.D., Los Angeles

When a social worker friend was killed by a homeless, mentally ill man in Los Angeles, Dr. Ragins knew the true culprit was a system that couldn’t successfully care for its mentally ill. Since then, he’s helped build The Mental Health Association’s Village Integrated Service Agency, a model mental health agency focusing on patient wellness and recovery instead of patient illness. As the Village’s medical director, Dr. Ragins has focused on creating a program that feels more like a second home than a hospital -- where treatment means more than just medication, and patients are partners in the process of recovery. Dr. Ragins also works alongside and mentors workers who reach out to the homeless population in some of the poorest areas of Los Angeles.

Primary Care: Joan Esnayra, Ph.D., Arlington, Va.

Dr. Joan Esnayra, a successful scientist, was newly diagnosed with a mental illness when she decided to get a puppy in order to lift her mood. To her surprise, the puppy demonstrated an uncanny ability to signal Dr. Esnayra in advance of major mood shifts, allowing her to work with her doctor to adjust her medication dosage, accordingly. Dr. Esnayra connected with others who reported similar experiences with their dogs and she started an Internet support group. She coined the term ‘Psychiatric Service Dog’ (PSD) and developed a therapeutic model around training dogs to do tasks such as waking up their owner in the morning, encouraging exercise and even reminding their owner to take his or her medication. She founded the Psychiatric Service Dog Society and has helped thousands of mentally ill individuals learn how to train and use their own PSD. She is conducting research on the efficacy of these canine partnerships and will publish her results in clinical journals.

Community Service: Donna H. Barnes, Ph.D., Washington, D.C.

After losing her son to suicide, Dr. Barnes dedicated her life to taking care of others like herself, to create a community of survivors. She believes education is the most powerful tool in the healing process and the fight for suicide prevention, and has taken a leadership role on several college campuses, including Tufts and Howard University, by developing innovative courses on suicide. Dr. Barnes also focuses on suicide in minority communities, such as Native Americans and African Americans whose suicide rates have increased sharply in recent years.i Upon learning minority communities were not addressing the epidemic of suicide, she co-founded the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide (NOPCAS), which helps communities of color create an open dialogue about mental illness and suicide prevention, and provides support for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Destigmatization: Bebe Moore Campbell, Los Angeles

A successful and established author, Ms. Campbell considered herself an open-minded person, until a family member was diagnosed with a mental illness. Feelings of shame and embarrassment prevented her from providing the love and support that can be crucial to recovery. Having realized the impact of stigma first-hand, Ms. Campbell began using her artistic talents to raise awareness. Her recent novel, 72 Hour Hold, which refers to the amount of time the mentally ill in California can be hospitalized without their consent, received rave reviews and informed millions about the pervasive stigma of mental illness. She also established and grew a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and continues working to reinforce the idea that recovery is possible.

About the Welcome Back Awards

The Welcome Back Awards was established in 1998 by Lilly to fight the stigma associated with depression and to promote the understanding that depression is treatable. Each year, an independent panel of national mental health leaders recognizes five individuals for their outstanding achievements, and Lilly awards a donation of between $10,000 and $15,000 to the not-for-profit organization of each winner’s choice.

For the first time, nominees for the 2007 Welcome Back Awards will be able to nominate themselves as well as be nominated by someone they know. Nominations may be submitted by anyone wishing to be recognized for his or her outstanding achievements in the depression community or wishing to recognize someone else. For more information, call 800-463-6440 or visit

# # #

i National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide: National Statistics. Accessed on 4/26/06

Back to top