JED Gala Celebrates 22 Years of Youth Mental Health Advocacy and Suicide Prevention
Over 600 guests gathered at Cipriani Wall Street on Tuesday to celebrate The Jed Foundation (JED). The JED Gala is an annual event dedicated to celebrating individuals and organizations who use their voices, talents, and resources to promote emotional wellness and prevent suicide among the nation’s youth. This Tuesday, however, the night held even greater significance as supporters gathered to champion the organization’s important work — and to honor its greatest advocates — in person, for the first time in three years.
Hosted by bestselling author and business professor, Scott Galloway, the event raised more than $1.6 million, which will help JED extend its pivotal programs and campaigns to even more colleges, universities, high schools, and community-based organizations throughout the United States.
That need could not be more urgent. Citing the effects of the pandemic, social media, mass shootings, and isolation on America’s teens and young adults, Galloway said, “We are fortunate that we’ve got organizations like The Jed Foundation working tirelessly, with the support of incredibly devoted people, to turn the tides and ensure those headlines, and those statistics, change.”
This year, the JED Corporate Award for Leadership in Mental Health went to Morgan Stanley for its commitment to adolescent mental health.
“[The Morgan Stanley Foundation] had been funding children’s health more broadly for 60 years, but hadn’t concentrated on mental health. JED’s leadership in the space helped us remedy that and to eventually launch the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health,” said Joan Steinberg, President of the Morgan Stanley Foundation. “So far, our efforts have reached 11 million youth and families — and we’ve convened 5,000 clients, peers, alumni, and employees to take action — but we are nowhere near being done.”
JED also debuted its Student Voice of Mental Health Award, which recognizes outstanding young people who are advocating on behalf of, and notably influencing, youth mental health and suicide prevention. This year, two deserving students received scholarships: Joseph Sexton, a rising senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Crystal Widado, a rising senior at Glendora High School in Los Angeles, California.
Sexton talked about his mission to advocate for youth mental health through his interdisciplinary studies at Vanderbilt University: “When young people see decades of effort with limited progress, we of course realize more than ever before how complex the fabric of mental health is, but it motivates us to seek new approaches.”
“I trust that we are capable,” said Sexton. “Thank you, JED, for promoting and honoring this hope.”
Widado said that she felt empowered by JED’s Mental Health Resource Center, which she found herself browsing while on the phone with a crisis helpline during one of her toughest moments. She also discussed her hopes for the future of youth mental health.
“I genuinely believe that the issues that young people are facing today require changes in our education, healthcare, criminal justice, and economic systems,” said Widado. “But even though we’re up against these oppressive systems that have historically caused so much violence to our communities, we must look to each other for solidarity and continue our fight together for mental health justice for all.”
Moments after they stepped offstage, Sexton and Widado were embraced by Abraham Sculley and Saniya Soni, two fellow advocates who spoke earlier in the evening about their work on “Each and Every Day,” a documentary about youth mental health created through a partnership between JED and MTV. A clip from the film was screened before Sculley and Soni stepped onstage to candidly share their own struggles with depression, the fact of former suicidal ideation or attempts, and how they were finally able to accept help from their friends and find culturally responsive, professional support.
Special guests who spoke throughout the evening included Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD, New York City’s Health Commissioner; David A. Thomas, PhD, President of Morehouse College; and Phil Satow, co-founder and Chair of the Board at JED.
Performers included blues-rock star Dana Fuchs, as well as The Passing Notes, from Montclair High School, which is a JED School. Together, the singer-songwriter and youth a cappella group led a rousing finale performance of “Under Pressure.”
“JED is so grateful to our partners and supporters for coming together to support youth mental health,” said John MacPhee, CEO of The Jed Foundation. “Suicide is a multilayered, complex problem. It requires a comprehensive response that starts with prevention by helping youth develop independent living skills, and surrounding them with a culture of caring that fosters connectedness, acceptance, and an understanding that mental health is health.”