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Legendary singer-songwriter Judy Collins received the 2016 McLean Award before more than 400 members of the McLean community at the hospital’s Annual Dinner on June 7, 2016. McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, introduced Ms. Collins, referring to her as an “absolute cultural icon whose soaring vocals exemplified the sounds of the folk revolution of the 1960s and 70s.”
As she took the stage, Ms. Collins delighted the audience with an a cappella verse of her Grammy award-winning song “Both Sides Now,” eliciting an exuberant standing ovation. “There certainly have been both sides to my life,” she remarked.
Collins’ father battled alcoholism until his death and she told the audience that, as a teenager, she knew she suffered from the same disease. Struggling with depression as well as addiction since adolescence, Collins spoke of her suicide attempt at age 14 and her subsequent battle with an eating disorder. She described how she learned to mask addiction and skillfully manage a successful career for many years before realizing that she needed help.
With humility and candor she also shared her greatest tragedy, the loss of her son Clark, who took his own life after a lengthy battle with heroin addiction. “The ongoing recovery from this loss has been the greatest series of lessons in my life,” Collins said.
Collins’ comments were peppered with laughter and music as she broke into song numerous times to illustrate particular points. She emphasized that music, humor, exercise, meditation, and a vast support system were the tools that have helped her recover and maintain her stability. In her recovery, she has become an ardent advocate for suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and stigma reduction.
Collins also referenced the extraordinary help she received along the way. She saluted nurses in particular, remembering how her recovery truly began when a nurse suggested that she “let us drive now.” On April 20, 2016, Collins celebrated 38 years of sobriety.
Commending McLean for working to break down the taboos and stigma associated with mental illness, Collins reminded the audience that mental illness “doesn’t just affect the patients, it affects their families and their communities’ perception of [them]. I am both honored and touched to be welcomed into a community that is making such a positive difference for people with mental illness.”
In a particularly moving finish to her remarks Collins invited the audience to join her in singing “Amazing Grace”—and they did, with gusto.
McLean Board Chair David S. Barlow joined Collins on stage to present her with the McLean award calling her address, “raw, hopeful, honest, and healing.”