Menninger Signature Luncheon

ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas talks frankly about addiction and road to recovery at Menninger luncheon

ABC anchor talks frankly about addiction, recovery at Menninger lunch

Melanie Lawson, Elizabeth Vargas at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Melanie Lawson, left, interviews Elizabeth Vargas at the Menninger Clinic luncheon. Photo by John R. Lewis
Maureen Hackett, Molly LaFauci at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Maureen Hackett, Molly LaFauci. Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton
Jeff and Paula Paine at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Paula Paine, Jeff Paine. Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton
Dorothy and Ronny Cuenod at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Dorothy Cuenod, Ronny Cuenod. Photo by John R. Lewis
Simone Hunt at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Simone Hunt. Photo by John R. Lewis
Pam Erwin, Brittany Lawnin at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Pam Erwin, Brittany Lawnin. Photo by John R. Lewis
Kathy and Dr. C. Edward Coffey at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Kathy Coffey, Dr. C. Edward Coffey. Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton
Steve Borick, Barbara Robertson at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Steve Borick, Barbara Robertson. Photo by John R. Lewis
Kitty and Steve Oldham at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Kitty Oldham, Steve Oldham. Photo by John R. Lewis
Wells and April McGee at Menninger Clinic Luncheon
Wells McGee, April McGee.  Photo by John R. Lewis
Melanie Lawson, Elizabeth Vargas at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Maureen Hackett, Molly LaFauci at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Jeff and Paula Paine at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Dorothy and Ronny Cuenod at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Simone Hunt at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Pam Erwin, Brittany Lawnin at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Kathy and Dr. C. Edward Coffey at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Steve Borick, Barbara Robertson at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Kitty and Steve Oldham at Menninger Clinic luncheon
Wells and April McGee at Menninger Clinic Luncheon

What: The Menninger 2017 Annual Signature Luncheon with Elizabeth Vargas.

Where: Westin Galleria Hotel.

The scoop: Award-winning ABC News anchor and correspondent Elizabeth Vargas, author of the bestseller, Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction, riveted the audience of 650 with frank talk about her struggles with anxiety and alcohol and her road to recovery. Vargas discussed some of the myths of addiction, such as the erroneous belief that addicts lack self-discipline or that addiction is a choice.

"Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an unprecedented, comprehensive report calling addiction a huge public health crisis that is in fact a disease. More people suffer from it than all cancers combined in this country and only one in 10 people get help," said Vargas, who co-hosts 20/20 with David Muir on ABC.

She stressed the importance of talking openly about addiction and other mental health issues. "Don't be afraid to reach out for help. Don't feel afraid to say, ' I don't know.' And ask somebody. I don't know where I got the wrongheaded message that it was weak to ask for help, that I would be judged harshly. You can only get better when you get the help we all need, not just me. A lot of people need help, but they hate asking for it," she said.

And, she noted in closing, don't be too judgmental of others. "Everybody has something they're struggling with. Be kind," she said.

ABC13 news anchor Melanie Lawson conducted the revealing onstage interview with Vargas, who hung around afterwards to pose for photographs and sign copies of her book.

Former patient Simone Hunt also shared her story about coming to Menninger as a malnourished, drug addicted, and traumatized 20-year-old who had survived several suicide attempts. Now 25, she details her road to recovery in a blog thingsgetweird.com and a forthcoming book, If You're Freaking Out, Read This.

Ronny Cuenod, who co-chaired the luncheon with his wife Dorothy, and Jeff and Paula Paine, spoke of the agony of losing a child to suicide and how his family learned to cope with the devastation. "In order to turn tragedy to triumph, you need to look around and say, 'I love you,' 'I need to say I'm sorry,' 'I need to ask how can I help you?'," he said.

Lynne Paine, Nancy Runnells, and Beverly Wuntch, founders of The Gathering Place, the Menninger psychosocial clubhouse that provides free rehabilitative services to approximately 75 members each day in Houston, were honored. Menninger Clinic president and CEO Dr. C. Edward Coffey also detailed the completion of a capital campaign for a new $16 million outpatient services and education center on the Menninger campus. Menninger Clinic Foundation Board chair Maureen Hackett spearheaded the fundraising drive.

The luncheon raised $575,000 to benefit mental health treatment, research and training at The Menninger Clinic, the nationally-ranked mental healthcare system offering inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment.

Who: Also spotted in the crowd were Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Vivie O’Sullivan, Chris Knapp, Kelly Hackett, Mosie Hackett, Elaine Finger, Mindy Hildebrand, Allen and Carol Lyons, Howard Tellepsen, Emily Bush, Dr. Kathy C. Flanagan, Stephanie and Brad Tucker, Cyndy Garza-Roberts, and Menninger Clinic board chair Rob C. Wilson III.