It was an honor and a pleasure to attend the 2010 Voice Awards, hosted by SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA is the agency responsible for helping to get the word out about substance abuse and mental health issues, so their focus is much aligned with ours.
This year’s theme was focused on honoring portrayals of men and women who serve in the military but come home to grapple with mental health issues and friends and family who often just don’t understand how to help. It also featured a lifetime achievement award given to Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter for her decades’ long work on helping advance mental health care in the U.S.
The annual ceremony is held to honor the realistic and often-poignant depiction of people struggling with mental health issues on the big screen, in documentaries and on television. Actors Sandra Oh, Julia Ormond, America Ferrara, Brian McNamara and Peter Krause were among the many who attended and helped to present at this year’s event, which was co-hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor Hector Elizondo and Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr.
I had the opportunity beforehand to hang out on the red carpet and talk to a few of these actors before the ceremony started.
One of the people I had the opportunity to speak with was Ryan Piers Williams, who wrote and directed the drama, “The Dry Land.” It’s a movie about a soldier who is grappling with his mental health concerns after his return home.
“It follows his journey as he tries to reconnect with his family and friends. There’s a key event that has caused his PTSD that he’s trying to overcome and deal with.”
Williams won an award for “The Dry Land” at the Voice Awards last night. The movie has not been widely released, but has been seen by thousands of military personnel in special screenings setup around the world. It co-stars America Ferrera with Ryan O’Nan and sounds like a movie worth seeing.
Speaking of America Ferrera, I asked her about the character Betty she played on the now-defunct show “Ugly Betty” — what impact did she think it may have had on challenging the perception of what “beautiful” is?
“I think that having a smart, successful young woman who had admirable qualities that didn’t start with what she looked like was a really nice role model to present to young men and women of this generation to show that there are other values to be admired in a person, beyond what they look like,” said Ms. Ferrera.
Indeed — by showing us the value of a person beyond their looks, Betty was a character that most of us could relate to.
Julia Ormond was in attendance supporting the award-winning movie, Temple Grandin, in which she portrayed the mother of an autistic woman, Temple Grandin, who went on to change animal science through humane livestock handling. I asked her about whether she’s seen a change in the way mental health issues are portrayed in the movies and on TV over the past few decades.
“I would certainly say that it’s gotten a little better. I think a part of that is that public awareness has changed around mental health issues, given the number of people affected.”
“Do you think the portrayal has become more realistic or less realistic?” I asked.
“I think if you look at the last 50 years, this rather sort of cliche take that someone who’s struggling with mental issues is going to be a psychopath, I think that’s changed.”
I also did more in-depth interviews with Administrator Pamela Hyde, J.D. of SAMHSA and one of the consumer winners at the Voice Awards last night, Frederic Frese, Ph.D., which I will be posting in the coming days.