Special Olympics International honored for mental health efforts after UNMC nomination

By: - November 1, 2023 2:33 pm

Dr. Karoly Mirnics, director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute and a professor of psychiatry, biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. (Courtesy of UNMC)

LINCOLN — A professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center accepted a prestigious award last week on behalf of Special Olympics International for the organization’s work in mental health. 

Dr. Karoly Mirnics, director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute at UNMC, accepted the 2023 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation on Oct. 27 in New York City. 

Mirnics, also a professor of psychiatry, biochemistry and molecular biology at UNMC, serves on the board of directors for Special Olympics International and is chair of the organization’s global medical advisory committee.

“Special Olympics International is being honored as a beacon of light and equality for its decades of service to adults and children with intellectual disabilities,” said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

The mental health award was created in 2014 and carries an honorarium of $150,000. It is awarded annually to an individual or organization whose contributions have a profound and lasting impact in advancing the understanding of mental health and improving the lives of people living with mental illness.

In a statement, Mirnics said individuals with intellectual disabilities are considered high risk for various mental health disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Access to timely, quality care is critical but can be impeded by a limited understanding of intellectual disabilities, lack of adapted assessment tools or inadequately prepared practitioners.

Special Olympics International created the Strong Minds program in 2010 to combat this. The program is an emotional well-being assessment and interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills in individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“These things are very strong reinforcers that what we do matters,” Mirnics said in a statement. “It not only matters to our athletes, but it matters to the community. We are not alone and there are other like-minded organizations, and we are changing the world together.”

The Munroe-Meyer Institute, founded in 1919, is “an advocate and ambassador for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities” and offers more than 100 services. This includes physical or occupational therapy, psychological services, genetic evaluation, assistive technology, autism assessment and treatment and speech-language pathology treatment.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold nominated Special Olympics International for the award. 

Gold cited the organization’s positive impact of its work on the mental health of its participants and for being a leading advocate for including people with disabilities in all areas of society.

“Their efforts to promote inclusion and reduce stigma have helped to raise awareness about the mental health needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities and have contributed to a more accepting and inclusive society,” Gold wrote in the nomination.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. He reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan before joining the Nebraska Examiner staff as an intern.