Nearly 500 supporters of Menninger Clinic gathered earlier this month at the Westin Galleria Hotel for an annual luncheon that raised $350,000 to continue and expand the mental health care system's programming. The Menninger Clinic, a Texas Medical Center member institution, is ranked among the top three psychiatric hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
Guests of the clinic's 2018 Annual Signature Luncheon heard a compelling personal story from Debi Strong, a former patient who recovered from a suicide attempt at Menninger six years ago. Strong spoke of the hospital's impact on her journey to long-term healing, equipping her with a new set of tools and beliefs, and her five "key puzzle pieces of recovery" as a lifelong process: medication, therapy, coping skills, support, and agency/willingness. Today, Strong teaches depression management classes and has spent over 10,000 hours helping others who struggle with mental illness.
Menninger interim president and CEO Tony Gaglio said the open dialogue around mental illness is a marker of progress and combating stigma, which has resulted in more people seeking help. Menninger offers inpatient and outpatient treatment, comprehensive assessments, community integration, and home-based services.
This year, the luncheon honored The Hamill Foundation, which provides grants for educational, scientific, charitable, and religious activities in the city. Grants director Tom Brown accepted Menninger's Vital Balance Award in recognition of the foundation's support for vital Menninger initiatives like training for social workers and psychiatric nurses, and The Gathering Place, the clinic's psychosocial clubhouse.
Guests also heard from actor Sean Astin—known for his roles in The Lord of the Rings, The Goonies, and, most recently, as Bob Newby in Netflix's Stranger Things—who was interviewed by Great Day Houston host Deborah Duncan. Astin's mother, the late actress Patty Duke, was one of the first celebrities to publicly discuss mental illness after her 1982 bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Astin recalled acting alongside his mother in the ABC Afterschool Special, Please Don't Hit Me, Mom. In it, Astin played an abused child and said many scenes felt familiar to his own home life. He shared an epiphany: His mother asking him to be in the show with her, he said, was Duke's way of apologizing and acknowledging her own abusive behavior was wrong.
Duke went on to champion mental health causes, writing a book, A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness. To Astin, Duke was a vanguard in combating stigma, and "her salvation was in owning her dysfunction." Astin's advice to loved ones of people suffering from mental illness: protect yourself and have faith in the community.