Ms. Ross was the co-founder, President and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to raise public awareness about anxiety and its treatment. She passed away early last month. Below is an obituary for this remarkable woman, Jerilyn Ross, An Advocate for the Anxious, by Benedict Carey as it appeared in the New York Times:
Jerilyn Ross, a therapist who helped hundreds of people overcome their worst anxieties and who became one of the country’s most visible and effective advocates for those with mental health problems, died on Jan. 7 in Washington. She was 63 and lived in Potomac, Md.
The cause was cancer, said her husband, Ronald Cohen.
Ms. Ross was a 25-year-old teacher on vacation in Salzburg, Austria, when she was struck by a sudden fear of heights — a fear that would, in time, make her a public figure. After learning to manage this dread in 1978, Ms. Ross joined the practice of Dr. Robert DuPont, a prominent psychiatrist in the Washington area, to help others do the same.
A skilled therapist and exuberant optimist, she soon had her own radio show, in the 1980s, where she became known as the “phobia lady.”
Ms. Ross testified before Congress on behalf of those with mental illnesses. She appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” seven times over the years. And in countless newspaper and magazine articles, she explained persistent anxiety and how to live with and manage it. She was equal parts therapist, fellow sufferer and inspiration.
In 1980, with Dr. DuPont, she founded the organization that would become the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, which was integral in raising public awareness of, and research money for, problems like social anxiety, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ms. Ross was the director of the association until her death.
“The reality is, when we started that group, anxiety disorders were nowhere on mental health geography, period; they were thought of as trivial and rare,” Dr. DuPont said in an interview on Wednesday. “Well, that one woman carried the cause, got research funding” and put the disorders on the map.
Researchers now estimate that 30 million to 40 million Americans suffer from some form of nagging anxiety, from mild to severe.
Jerilyn Ross was born in the Bronx on Dec. 20, 1946. After graduating from the State University of New York, Cortland, in 1968, she worked as an elementary school math teacher in New York City. She earned a master’s in psychology at the New School for Social Research in 1975.
In 1994 Ms. Ross and the former first lady Rosalynn Carter published “Triumph Over Fear,” about anxiety disorders. Her book “One Less Thing to Worry About,” written with Robin Cantor-Cooke, was published last year.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by three children, Alan Cohen of Bethesda and Crain Cohen and Sue-Ann Siegel of Potomac; and seven grandchildren.
“Each of us has a different relationship with anxiety, just as each of us has a different relationship with our mothers, our fathers, our children, and everyone else in our lives,” she wrote in her second book. “What’s important is not learning the ‘right’ way to respond to anxiety but learning how you relate to it and whether or not the relationship is working.”