News Release

National Academy of Medicine awards 2015 Sarnat Prize in Mental Health to Kay Jamison and Kenneth Kendler

Grant and Award Announcement

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, today awarded the 2015 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health to Kay Jamison and Kenneth Kendler -- the first time two separate nominees are receiving the award.

Kay Jamison, Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, was awarded the prize for her major insights into mood disorders and suicide, which she has communicated to both health professionals and the general public through award-winning books. Kenneth Kendler, Rachel Brown Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, was awarded the prize for his research on the role of genes and environment in the development of mental disorders. The prize was presented to Jamison and Kendler at the National Academy of Medicine's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"Dr. Jamison and Dr. Kendler have each made tremendous contributions to the field of mental health by increasing our understanding of the nature of mental illness and by reducing the stigma associated with it," said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau.

Kay Jamison is a world authority on mood disorders and an author who has brought deep psychological insights to the general public in a series of books that include autobiographical works, studies of historical figures, and explorations of artistic and scientific creativity. Her memoir An Unquiet Mind has been translated into more than 30 languages, and her exploration of the psychological and societal contexts of suicide, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, has been translated into 15 languages. She is the co-author of the standard medical text on bipolar illness and recipient of a MacArthur award.

Kenneth Kendler's research has explored the joint effects of genes and the environment in the development of mental illness. Kendler showed that genetic factors play an important role in the genesis of all major and common mental disorders, such as major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorders, and alcohol and drug dependence. He showed that key environmental risk factors for psychiatric disorders can interact with genetic risk.

"The Sarnat committee decided that there was a tie because these candidates represented bookends of what has transformed the field of mental health," said the prize committee in a statement. "Kay Jamison's inspirational books and teaching characterize courage, hope, and life experience, illustrating the best fight against the stigma of mental illness. Kenneth Kendler's pathbreaking science has demonstrated that both environment and genes reciprocally affect the risk of mental illness. In our view, both have had tremendous impact in the field and progress of mental health, and both have opened pathways to better lives for persons with mental illness."

Since 1992 the Sarnat Prize has been presented to individuals, groups, or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement in improving mental health. The prize recognizes -- without regard for professional discipline or nationality -- achievements in basic science, clinical application, and public policy that lead to progress in the understanding, etiology, prevention, treatment, or cure of mental disorders, or to the promotion of mental health. As defined by the nominating criteria, the field of mental health encompasses neuroscience, psychology, social work, nursing, psychiatry, and advocacy.

The award is supported by an endowment created by Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat of Los Angeles. Rhoda Sarnat is a licensed clinical social worker, and Bernard Sarnat is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and researcher. The Sarnats' concern about the destructive effects of mental illness inspired them to establish the award. Nominations for potential recipients are solicited from Academy members, deans of medical schools, and mental health professionals. This year's selection committee was chaired by Margarita Alegria, professor of psychology, department of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and director, Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, Mass.


Additional information about the Sarnat Prize can be found at

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit


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