Steinberg Institute
Steinberg Institute 2021 Mental Health Champions

Presenting the 2021 Steinberg Institute Mental Health Champions!

Posted on Monday, May 3, 2021

Can you guess who they are?

A political power broker who fell into a deep depression – and then publicly shared his story rather than keeping it secret.

A clinically trained psychologist who decided her greatest impact would be creating policy change to help many people with mental health needs, rather than just those she could serve as clients.

A man who provided a sanctuary for hundreds of rescue animals, then was rescued himself as he was about to leap off a bridge – and today is a suicide prevention advocate who calls everyone brother and sister.

A 23-year-old who came to California from Mexico at the age of 2, struggled with anxiety and bullying, and today is an advocate for young gay people of color – and has a featured chapter in a book about kindness by Lady Gaga.


See our 2021 Mental Health Champions


May is here, and hope, at long last, is on the horizon as California begins to emerge from our traumatic, shared COVID-19 experience. It’s also Mental Health Awareness Month, and that’s the time when we at the Steinberg Institute honor people who are doing great work — and proclaim them as Mental Health Champions. This year, that honor includes the people above.

“I love our Mental Health Champions stories because it gives us a chance to honor and celebrate the work of fantastic people from many different worlds who often go unrecognized,” says Maggie Merritt, executive director of the Steinberg Institute. “What unites them is that they all are working so hard to change the way we view and talk about mental health and mental illness – to take away the stigma, add the humanity and compassion, and ensure that the most vulnerable among us can get the help and support they need.”

It’s one of our favorite activities because it allows us to shine a spotlight on some of the amazing, unsung heroes who are working so hard to heal themselves and others — and to make our state a more healing, healthy place for everyone who has ever struggled with their mental health. (And really, who among us hasn’t?) It also creates an exciting opportunity to delve into some of the deeper issues and roadblocks California faces as we all work to fix a mental health system that fails so many and can be so hard to navigate.

We’ll be unveiling this year’s eight Champions one at a time over the course of the month. Perhaps you recognize some of them from the descriptions or the silhouettes above. If you do, feel free to share your guesses in our social media platforms and hashtag them with #mentalhealthchamps2021 and #campeones-de-salud-mental2021.

Here are some clues to the other champions we’ll be honoring this month.

A consumer advocate who fled the Afghan-Soviet war as a child and draws on that experience to help immigrants and others suffering from trauma.

A policymaker who never forgot how depressed students at her high school were scorned and shunned by their peers, propelling her to crusade for change.

A fashion designer whose personal loss led him to advocate for mental health policy change.

A writer and storyteller whose own experiences with the mental health system helped show her that the support of peers can be life-changing.

Once we unveil each champion, please share their stories with your networks – and congratulate our mental health heroes.