The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) honored television and film writers and producers last night at the 2008 Voice Awards, hosted by award-winning actor and mental health advocate Joe Pantoliano and Hairspray film star Nikki Blonsky, at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. Winners were recognized for incorporating dignified, respectful, and accurate depictions of people living with mental health problems into their programs and films. Awards were also given to outstanding community leaders—themselves individuals with mental illnesses—who have had a positive impact on the acceptance of people with mental health problems in our society.
“As this year’s Voice Award winners prove, progress is being made on television and film portraying the ‘reality’ of mental illnesses instead of the unfair stereotypes of the past,” said Terry Cline, Ph.D., SAMHSA Administrator. “Through the Voice Awards, more than 50 million Americans with mental health problems applaud the work and tremendous power of the entertainment industry and community leaders to influence public opinion and behavior related to mental health.”
Winners in the television category included the dramas “The Sopranos” (HBO) for the episode “The Second Coming”; “Dirt” (FX) for its pilot episode; “Monk”(USA) for the episode “Mr. Monk is at Your Service”; “House” (FOX) for the episode “Resignation”; “Friday Night Lights” (NBC) for multiple episodes; “Huff” (Showtime) for its episode “Whipped Doggie”; “Crossing Jordan” (NBC) for its episode “Save Me”; and the daytime drama “General Hospital” (ABC) for multiple episodes.
In multi-episode storylines of “Friday Night Lights” and “General Hospital” bipolar disorder and its impact on family and friends was examined. Suicide and the commonness of depression were the focus of the award-wining episodes of “House” and “The Sopranos,” while “Huff,” “Dirt,” and “Crossing Jordan” episodes received Voice Awards for their portrayal of characters with schizophrenia. Obsessive compulsive disorder is at the center of the dramedy, “Monk.”
Canvas, Reign Over Me, and Home of the Brave won in the film category. Based on writer-director Joe Greco’s own experiences growing up with a mother with schizophrenia, Canvas tells the story of a family dealing with the challenges of a loved one’s mental illness. Reign Over Me, starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, explores the rekindled relationship between college roommates after one experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon losing his family during the September 11 terrorist attacks. In another look at PTSD, Home of the Brave presents what happens when four American soldiers return home from Iraq to deal with the memories of war and civilian life.
Documentary winners included Cracking Up, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Through My Eyes, and the MTV documentary series “True Life,” for its “True Life: I Have Autism” and “True Life: I Have Tourette’s Syndrome” episodes. Cracking Up depicts a year in the life of 12 individuals who use laughter as therapy and face their mental illnesses through the use of stand-up comedy. For his film, British actor and comedian Stephen Fry interviewed celebrities including Robbie Williams, Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfuss, and others about the impact of bipolar disorder and how they have recovered. In Through My Eyes, Emmy-award winning producer Linda Midgett educates teens about mental health issues by filming the moving testimonies of their peers who have mental health challenges. In MTV’s “True Life” episodes, young people share how they deal with their disorders in their own words and illustrate that they are still able to live life to the fullest.
The Voice Awards bestowed its Consumer Leadership Award on five mental health advocates and community leaders—Joan Esnayra, Arlington, VA; Sharon Wise, District of Columbia; Paula Comunelli, Santa Cruz, CA; Herminio Maldonado, Jamaica, NY; and Marley Prunty-Lara, Minneapolis, MN—and its Young Adult Leadership Award to Marvin Alexander, North Miami Beach, FL. They were honored for their work to raise awareness about the prevalence of mental health problems and to help ensure that people are able to access services and supports that assist recovery.
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Larry Fricks, Cleveland, GA—a former journalist with bipolar disorder whose long career includes the development and adoption of multiple innovative, recovery-oriented programs and services—by journalist and author Richard Cohen. Cohen featured Frick’s story of recovery and his battle to improve the lives of others also dealing with mental illness in his book, Strong at the Broken Places. In addition, SAMHSA presented a Special Recognition Award to comedian and host of NBC’s Deal or No Deal Howie Mandel for his commitment to children’s mental health as the National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Ambassador.
At the Voice Awards after-party, co-host Pantoliano and his nonprofit organization, No Kidding, Me Too!, presented actress Sally Field with its first No Kidding, Me Too! Award for her exemplary work in film and television educating the public about mental health. Following his work on the Voice Award-winning film Canvas and the loss of a close friend to suicide, Pantoliano founded No Kidding, Me Too! to unite entertainment industry members to fight the stigma of mental illness.
Named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s top 10 artists to watch, Brett Dennen lended his voice and music to the celebration, performing at the after party attended by writers, producers, and actors such as Delta Burke, Andy Comeau, Aasha Davis, Sarah Roemer, Mariette Hartley, Ruta Lee, Miguel Ferrer, Ravi Kapoor, Mark Indelicato, Devon Gearhart, Bobby Moresco, and Jesse Spencer.
Program partners of the Voice Awards include: Ad Council, Alliance Healthcare Foundation, American Psychiatric Foundation, American Psychological Association, The California Endowment, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, everyminute.org, Mental Health America, Mental Health Media Partnership, NARSAD, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, No Kidding, Me Too!, RTI International, and the Writers Guild of America West.
The Voice Awards are part of the Campaign for Mental Health Recovery, a multi-year public service advertising program of SAMHSA and the Ad Council to promote understanding and support for young adults and others with mental illnesses.