Voice Awards Help SAMHSA Highlight Champions Of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

By John Lavitt 08/12/16

The 2016 Voice Awards recognized leaders in TV, film, and behavioral health who use their public platforms to raise awareness of mental and substance use disorders.

Voice Awards Help SAMHSA Highlight Champions Of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment
Mrs. California 2017 Dawnel Derubeis Photo: John Lavitt

At the 2016 Voice Awards, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) used Hollywood's star power to raise nationwide awareness about behavioral health issues. Hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show and introduced remotely by First Lady Michelle Obama, the awards show—which took place on Wednesday in Los Angeles—honored recovery champions with impactful stories. Held for the past eleven years, the title of this year’s show was “Strengthening Families Through Hope And Help.” 

Awards were also presented to a number of television programs, ranging from Empire to Madame Secretary, for bravely putting a televised face to the cause of mental illness. Additionally, feature films—including Rob Reiner’s fictional account of his son Nick Reiner’s struggles in Being Charlie and the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy—were hailed for their role in helping to lower the stigma of mental health challenges.

As SAMHSA’s Senior Advisor for Addiction and Recovery, Tom Hill was the agency’s chief representative at the Awards. Personally sober for over 24 years, Hill emphasized in his opening remarks that recovery is not only possible, but recovery has become the expectation. By having family members act as champions and advocates for recovery when both mental health and substance use disorder arise, the scaffolding effect gives a person a much greater chance to find a sustainable path. 

Melissa d'Arabian interviews SAMHSA's Tom Hill (Photo: John Lavitt)

When asked what the Voice Awards mean to SAMHSA, Hill emphasized the importance of raising awareness. “By celebrating recovery champions and providing them with a platform to tell their stories, the Voice Awards can truly help to overcome stigma and negativity," he told The Fix. "We need to end the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental illness and substance use conditions, treating them as health conditions where the people need our help.”

The Staglin family, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, are a perfect example of such positive action. When their son Bruce was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1990, Shari and Garen Staglin embraced positive action. Realizing that scientific research is a key part of addressing mental illness, they began to raise money. The Staglins' annual Music Festival for Brain Health has raised over $225 million for mental health charities and research alone. 

Melissa d'Arabian interviews Dr. Oz (Photo: John Lavitt)

Dr. Oz emphasized the importance of this work in his opening remarks. “We know today that recovery is possible and real," he said. "This has been shown by the amazing work of the people being honored tonight. We know we can now help people in need find access to the behavioral health services that will transform their lives. The renaissance for mental health and addiction is now.” 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.