UTHSC’s Dr. Altha Stewart Wins 2022 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

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The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) has awarded the 2022 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health to Altha J. Stewart, MD, senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement and associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine.

Dr. Altha Stewart

“It’s truly an honor to receive this prestigious award,” Dr. Stewart said. “The BBRF supports some of the most innovative mental health research in the field that leads to important breakthroughs and results in immediate impact for persons with mental illness. I am humbled and very much appreciate this recognition of my work.”

The foundation described Dr. Stewart, who was the first African American president of the American Psychiatric Association, as “a pioneering voice in America about structural racism and its impact on mental health treatment for people of color.” The award honors Dr. Stewart for her dedication to helping disadvantaged and underserved people who are living with mental illnesses.

The BBRF also highlighted Dr. Stewart’s work as the director of UTHSC’s Center for Youth Advocacy and Well-Being, which aims to promote a trauma-informed culture that focuses on preventing trauma to children, helping children exposed to violence, offering peaceful resolutions to conflict, and creating a climate that supports children and fosters collaboration among service providers.

The BBRF is the world’s preeminent philanthropic organization for mental health research, guided by a scientific council of 120 leaders in psychiatry, including UTHSC Chancellor Peter F. Buckley, MD.

“Altha is a renowned psychiatrist who brings instant credibility and importance to any work she does, and her powerful impact on mental health and wellness is felt in Memphis and well beyond,” Chancellor Buckley said.

Ronald L. Cowan, MD, PhD, chair of the UTHSC Department of Psychiatry, also serves on the foundation’s scientific council. “Dr. Stewart’s lifelong dedication to improving the lives of disadvantaged people is truly extraordinary and highly fitting for the Pardes Humanitarian Prize,” Dr. Cowan said.

Dr. Stewart also serves on the board of the Urban Child Institute. Executive Director Gary Shorb praised Dr. Stewart’s work and said, “She is very deserving of this wonderful recognition as her leadership has resulted in our renewed focus on and prioritization of support for mental health services for low-income children. Her insights and experience have been a critical resource for us and numerous other organizations working to improve the mental health of children throughout our community.”

As one of two recipients of the Pardes Humanitarian Prize, Dr. Stewart will speak at the BBRF’s International Mental Health Research Symposium in New York on Oct. 28. Her presentation will focus on addressing mental health disparities through research. According to Dr. Stewart, disparities in the prevalence and outcomes of mental health disorders are well recognized in the U.S. in racialized and underserved communities, and more research is needed to improve care and reduce the structural determinants of mental health in diverse populations. Her presentation will provide recommendations for establishing priorities, engaging community stakeholders, and collaborating with communities on research to develop and test effective interventions to reduce these disparities.

“Dr. Stewart is a leading voice in defining the intersection between mental health, humanism, access to care and equity,” said Scott Strome, MD, FACS, executive dean and vice chancellor for Clinical Affairs in the UTHSC College of Medicine. “I am in awe of her past and ongoing contributions to our community and our nation and I look forward to joining her in New York as she receives this prestigious award.”