ORLANDO, Fla.—The kickoff keynote address at the annual Psych Congress conference has been named after former Steering Committee member Eric C. Arauz, MLER, who passed away at age 47 this year.
The announcement was made by Steering Committee member Andrew Penn, RN, MS, NP, CNS, APRN-BC, before this year’s keynote presentation.
“Eric [in 2013] was the first kickoff keynote speaker that Psych Congress ever had,” Penn said. “To honor Eric and to keep his memory and the impact that he made on this meeting alive, I’m happy to announce that the kickoff keynote address from this day forward will now be called the Eric Arauz Memorial Keynote Address.”
Arauz’s 2013 address, in Las Vegas, Nevada, was “both inspiring and uncomfortable,” said Penn, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and Associate Clinical Professor, University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing.
“It was inspiring because he reminded us of the value of our work, the reason why we get out of bed every morning and go to the hospital, to the clinic, to the prison, wherever it is that we interact with our patients,” Penn recalled.
“It was uncomfortable because his unflinching account of his own struggles reminded us that none of us are immune from mental illness.” Arauz was a trauma survivor and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Penn recalled that he first heard Arauz speak in 2010, when he delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. Arauz had only recently started speaking publicly.“His story and how he came through the torments of bipolar disorder, addiction, and trauma at the hands of both his father and psychiatric hospitals to becoming a successful public speaker and mental health advocate and consultant was not only so compelling you could hear a pin drop in that room of 2000 people. But by the time he was done there was not a dry eye in the house.”
A FITTING PRESENTATION
The first Eric Arauz Memorial Keynote Address was given after the announcement by Stephen W. Porges, PhD, Distinguished University Scientist, Indiana University Bloomington and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Porges gave attendees an in-depth explanation of the Polyvagal Theory, which he proposed in 1994. It emphasizes the importance of the physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders.
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Arauz greatly admired Dr. Porges and championed the theory in his lectures and trauma trainings through the country. It is currently leading to innovative mental health treatments, Penn said.
Dr. Porges said the Polyvagal Theory provided Arauz a neurophysiological explanation of his personal experiences. “His narrative took on a different value when there was a neurobiological explanation.”
In a book Arauz wrote, An American's Resurrection: One Man's Pilgrimage From Child Abuse and Mental Illness to Salvation, he explored how mental processes were “hijacked by a neurophysiological state and how that disrupted his own personal quest for safety and intimacy,” Dr. Porges said.
After the address, which served to kick off the 31st annual Psych Congress, Penn encouraged attendees to find a friend during the conference and take the time to stop, look them in the eye, and ask them how they are doing.
“Let’s have that caring, not just for our patients, but for each other, be Eric’s legacy,” he said.
AN EMOTIONAL TRIBUTE
Before the announcement and Dr. Porges’ address, clinical social worker Frank L. Greenagel II, a longtime friend of Arauz’s, gave an emotional tribute to him. He recalled their long late-night talks about serving in the military, attending college, and being in recovery.
After Arauz’s death, which Greenagel called “a near impossible shock,” Greenagel took the Department of Veterans Affairs
Those writings, combined with stories from others who knew Eric, resulted in a book, The Book of Eric, which is available on Amazon. Profits from the book are going towards a scholarship fund at Rutgers University in New Jersey for military veterans who are in recovery from a substance misuse disorder.
Greenagel Arauz visited and spoke with his students several times at an urban high school for troubled students in New Jersey.
“ ‘You can do anything, anything,’ he told them,” Greenagel recalled. “For a bunch of inner city kids whose school had largely given up on them, having this Navy veteran, Rutgers scholar, recovering alcoholic, motivational speaker, who lived with bipolar disorder talk to them so candidly was extraordinarily moving and motivating.”
“He was also so great with them,” Greenagel said, noting he received hundreds of notes from former students after Arauz’s death.
After Greenagel’s talk, Penn said “everyone in this room interacts with people every day in their work and probably has no idea what impact they have on other people, but in moments like this it becomes quite evident.”
Penn also announced that Psych Congress’ 2018 charitable partner is the Lyons campus of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Jersey Health Care System. Arauz was the only person ever to be a patient at the facility, then later give grand rounds there.
Psych Congress will donate $5,000 to the campus “in gratitude for the work that they do with New Jersey’s active military and veteran community,” Penn said.
“Keynote Address - Remembering Eric Arauz, MLER.” Presented at Psych Congress 2018: Orlando, FL; October 24, 2018.