Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, is one of 23 people this year to receive a $500,000, "no-strings-attached" fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Known as the "genius award," the fellowship recognizes people "who provide the imagination and fresh ideas that can improve people's lives and bring about movement on important issues." Jamison, named a hero of medicine in 1997 by Time magazine, was honored for her work to increase public awareness about serious mood disorders and to support patients.
Jamison, who earned her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1975, has been affected by manic depression since her teens, although she wasn't diagnosed until she was 28. Her unique expertise on mood disorders led her to write her memoir, "An Unquiet Mind," about her experience with manic-depression from the perspective of the afflicted and the healer. The book spent five months on the New York Times best-seller list, has been translated into 15 languages and used in hundreds of undergraduate psychology classes, and is being developed into a feature film.
Though her work in the early years of her education focused on pre-med and zoology, Jamison says she had done undergraduate work in psychology and "found the questions in psychology fascinating." Her focus turned concretely toward psychology when she became "smitten" with William James after reading "Varieties of Religious Experience."
Jamison is now a psychiatry professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and an honorary English professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She is involved in suicide prevention, and her work now focuses on genetic research and psychological aspects of mania, she says.