Two mental health pioneers, Dr. Helen Todd Nash and Dr. Jean L. Harris were honored last week for their continuing achievements in upgrading the lives of emotionally disadvantaged youths. More than 200 of their colleages and friends attended the luncheon at the Washington Hilton, where the awards were presented.

Nash, a psychologist, and Harris, an internist, were lauded by professional and volunteer workers associated with mental health issues. Mayor Walter E. Washington's wife, Beneta Washington, there to represent herself and the mayor, related some of her experiences as the former director of a school for emotionally disturbed young men.

The function, which promises to be one of many such occasions as mental health advocates move toward the forthcoming White House Conference on the Family and the International Year of the Child, was jointly sponsored by the D.C. Mental Health Assosciation, established in 1954, and the recently organized Committee of 97.

Nash is director of the first D.C. residential mental health center for children 6 to 12 years old.Harris took office last January as Gov. John N. Dalton's appointee to the office of secretary of the Virginia Department of Human Resources (HRD). As secretary she oversees the work of 22,000 employes employes and an annual HRD budget of $25 billion.

Medallions bearing the inscription "People who do, make a diffence," were awarded to Nash and Harris along with roses from the Black Nurses Assosciation of the Greater Washington Area.

Literary and musical tributes saluting the fortitude of children and the family were performed by poet Yvonne Young and concert singer Annette Poulard. Other speakers included the Rev. David Eaton of All Souls Church and psychiatric nurse Mary S. Harper.

Nash, a small wiry woman with bright, brown eyes that peer from behind gold, wire-rimmed glasses, smiled self-consciously as psychology Eva Rose Towns described Nash's achievements.

Over the past three decades, Nash's work has earned her national reknown as a researcher and psychologist, said Towns. In September, friends spirited her away from a professorship at the University of Washington in Seattle to work with mentally disturbed children in D.C.

The center, run by the Department of Human Resources, is at 3700 10th St. NW., known as Area B. It has 37 staff members and beds for 20 children.

AMong her many achievements, Nash revolutionized medical research involving oxygen-deficient "blue babies" by establishing a method to determine the infants' emotional readiness for corrective surgery.

She has held professorships at various universities, including 18 years at the Johns Hopkins University, and traveled across three continents in her two years as a psychological consultant for the Peace Corps.

Nash's husband, Earl Nash, who died in 1965, also was a well known psychologist. Her son Peter is a PhD candidate in theoretical mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley.

A native of Montgomery, Ala., Nash said she believes: "A really angry child can make Attila the Hun back up, except when they're sleeping or opening birthday presents. (But) when they love, they love like there's no tomorrow. When they despair it's the most despairing, hopeless feeling in the world."

Her life's work is directed toward releasing that love and earsing that despair, she said.

Harris was introduced by pediatrician Jean Curlee Mosee as an intiator of precedent-setting achievements. Harris is the first black and the first woman to ever hold this cabinet level postition in Virginia state government. She also was the first black admitted to The Medical College of Virginia, and the first black to be graduated from there.

Later she studied at the University of Rochester, N.Y. She was one of the first instructors of medicine at Howard University. And perhaps the first person to be invited to a luncheon "as a keynote speaker and (then) we decided to honor her, too," laughed Mosee.

A native of Richmond, Va., Harris spent 12 years in Washington as the administrator of various community and college medical programs community and college medical programs. She also ran a private practice at her home in Sheppherd Park.

Last week the eloquent internist exhorted her audience to accept "four challenges":

Consolidate the family as a support system for mentally ill youth.

Work with schools in correcting the social and behavioral problems of the young.

Demand better mental health services for youth.

"And advocate on behalf of emotionally disturbed children who have little clout," she urged.

"Twelve million children under 18 suffer from some type of mental health disorder," Harris said. "Approximately 90 percent do not receive the services they need."

As director of the HRD she oversees the distribution of medical and mental health services, employment services, public assistance, youth services and other resources to disadvantaged Virginians.

Attending the luncheon with Harris was her daughter Karen, 17. Harris has two other children, Pamela, 15, and Cynthia, 12. She is married to Leslie Ellis.