USC Professor David Baron recently received the 2015 Harry Stack Sullivan Award in recognition of his groundbreaking work in the field of behavioral aspects of concussion and the founder of the WHO/WPA Section on Exercise, Psychiatry and Sport.

Baron, who has been the vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of USC since 2010, was honored by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Sheppard-Pratt Health System during an April 8 event in
Baltimore, MD. He presented the HSS Memorial lecture to a group of more than 200 attendees on the topic, “Concussion in Sports: What We Know, Think We Know, Need to Know.”

“The award came out of the blue,” said Baron, who was gratified to receive an award named for the psychiatrist credited with establishing the field of social psychiatry 60 years ago. “Among the most influential American psychiatrists of the 20th century, Harry Stack Sullivan had a profound influence on the modern day concepts of psychiatric care and the role of community in mental health.”

The award is given annually to a recognized national leader in an emerging  area of psychiatric research with public mental health implications.

While in Baltimore, Baron was invited to show a film that he wrote and produced addressing the issue of concussion in youth sports. The film is based on his 30 years of experience working in youth, Olympic, NCAA and Professional sports. The film has won numerous international film festival awards, and has been presented at major psychiatric meetings around the world since its completion in late 2013.

“One analogy I use to explain the health effects is to think of sunburns,” Baron explained. “You don’t die of cancer from one sunburn. But the more sunburns you get over a lifetime, the greater the likelihood of a skin cancer developing. Like sunburn, virtually all heal in about a week, but we are just discovering the possibly long-term negative neuropsychiatric effects. In addition, like sunburn, children are more susceptible to long-term consequences.”

It’s the same with concussions. “I am interested in studying the effects of ‘minor dings’ over time,” Baron said.

He was presented the award by Steven S. Sharfstein, MD the longtime CEO of Sheppard Pratt and a former president of the American Psychiatric Association and NIMH researcher. Sharfstein also announced that Baron had been elected as a Distinguished Life Fellow of the APA —  the organization’s highest honor.

Baron has more than 90 publications, authored or co-authored 12 books, and has worked extensively in the field of sports psychiatry with organizations such as the U.S. Olympic Committee and the National Football League. He is also the former deputy clinical director of the National Institutes of Mental Health and chaired the Department of Psychiatry at Temple University’s School of Medicine from 1998-2010.

He holds an MSEd from USC ,and completed a  residency and fellowship in psychiatry at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center from 1979-1983. He describes himself as a “proud Trojan.”

“I am so glad I was recruited back to USC,” Baron said. “The university’s commitment to excellence in all scholarly pursuits (including sports and the Arts), international education, and an outstanding diverse faculty willing to work collaboratively make this a special place to be.”

— Les Dunseith