The U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services will announce todaythe creation of an award lauding accurate film, television and radio portrayals of mental health issues and the mentally ill.
About 50 nominees for the first Voice Awards are writers and producers, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Whoopi Goldberg. Receiving special honors will be thesp Brooke Shields as well as “Law & Order: SVU” showrunner Neal Baer.
Inaugural ceremony on July 20 at L.A.’s Skirball Center will hosted by actress Mariette Hartley and former TV journo Kathleen Sullivan, both of whom have bipolar disorder and are advocates for mental health awareness.
Hartley hopes the new awards will help people with mental health problems to realize “that this is not a shameful experience and that there is help.”
“Treatment is real and recovery is real,” said Charles G. Curie, chief of HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “But many mentally ill people do not seek help because of the stigma.”
Curie is looking to showbiz for help. “I respect the powerful role that the entertainment industry and the media have in getting a message out,” he said. Through the awards, HHS wants to encourage more “shows and movies that not only depict mental illness accurately but also convey a message of hope,” Curie added.
Such depictions include those of billionaire Howard Hughes, whose obsessive-compulsive disorder was visible in “The Aviator,” which DiCaprio exec produced. Goldberg is nominated for exec producing cable drama “Strong Medicine,” which takes on mental health issues. Scribes for episodes of “ER,” “Monk,” “Huff” and others are also nominated.
Baer, a Harvard-educated pediatrician, will receive the first career achievement award for creating fully developed characters suffering mental illness. He thinks the awards could have a positive effect.
“Anything that encourages writers to think more deeply about (mental health) issues is a good thing,” he said.
Shields will be honored for her recent book on postpartum depression, which “War of the Worlds” star Tom Cruise said was “all in her head” during a recent appearance on NBC’s “Today Show.”