Culver City Edition Entertainment Featured Local News

Didi Hirsch presents Erasing the Stigma Awards

BEVERLY HILLS — Bestselling authors David Sheff and Nic Sheff, the NFL Players Association, filmmaker William “Michael” Barbee, and YouTube music sensation Alex Boyé were honored at the 23rd annual Erasing the Stigma Awards April 25 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. 

The event was emceed by television host and producer Melissa Rivers, a suicide prevention advocate who recently joined the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ Board of Directors.  

The Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a nonprofit which has provided free mental health, substance use and suicide prevention services for more than 75 years, conferred the honors at the fundraising event that raised more than $500,000.

Didi Hirsch, which helps thousands of families each year from 10 locations and nearly 100 schools throughout Southern California. Didi Hirsch is also home to the nation’s first Suicide Prevention Center, which recently relocated to Century City.

David Sheff and his son, Nic Sheff, were honored with the Beatrice Stern Media Award. The authors have written about their family’s devastating experience with substance use disorder, which inspired the film “Beautiful Boy,” starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet

In accepting the honor, David Sheff said, “No one is blamed when they become ill with breast cancer or Parkinson’s disease. But people who become addicted are judged as weak-willed, choosing to get high without caring if they hurt others — or even themselves. They’re often shunned and vilified — as are their families. … People who are ill don’t deserve our judgment and censure; they deserve our compassion.”

Actor Jack Dylan Grazer, who portrayed a teenage Nic in “Beautiful Boy,” presented David and Nic Sheff with the honor, saying, “I wish I could say I was too young to understand addiction, but too many kids my age fall victim to it, just like Nic did. So, in sharing their story, David and Nic told the stories of a lot of families, including some that I know.”

Supermodel-turned-supermogul Kathy Ireland, who recently joined the board of the National Football League Players Association introduced offensive tackle Donald Penn, who accepted the Leadership Award on behalf of NFLPA, the union for professional football players in the National Football League.

The NFLPA has launched a number of initiatives to address whole health, including the mental health of players and their families. It created “Your Mind, Your Body, Your Health,” an online forum that debunks myths and encourages an open dialogue on issues such as depression and suicide. 

It also created several videos that brought together players and spouses to discuss their experience with depression, the stigma of mental illness in professional football, and other topics to improve the health and safety of players and to let them and their fans know they are not alone.

In presenting the award, Ireland said, “Like the lifespan of many athletes, my long ago modeling career had a short shelf life. Had the modeling industry had an entity such as NFLPA, many careers would have found new paths. Precious lives would have been protected and saved.” 

In accepting the award, Penn said, “It’s hard to admit and ask for help because you’re looked upon as someone who’s supposed to be able to do everything and be the toughest, strongest guy. … We’re not meant to break. But I’ve been in the league 13 years and a lot of guys I’ve been around have issues. … I’m so happy the NFLPA has opened up so many opportunities for guys to get help.”

Actor Bill Duke presented William “Michael” Barbee with the Leadership Award. Barbee is an entrepreneur, mental health advocate and producer/writer/director of “Beyond the Silence,” a movie about how people are often incarcerated instead of treated for mental illness. 

Barbee, who credits treatment for his recovery from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a suicide attempt at age 20, is passionate about helping others with mental illness. He now makes a point of hiring employees who live with mental illness and created a nonprofit arm of his transportation company to help people with mental illness get to their counseling appointments. 

He has written two books with mental health themes. He also serves on the Mental Health Association of Essex County Board of Directors and was honored at the 2013 Governor’s Council on Mental Health. 

In accepting his award, he stated, “Services and treatment are a must, but it’s also a must that we have mentorship. … I am grateful for the work Didi Hirsch is doing here and the example they’re setting across the nation.”

Melissa Rivers, the evening’s emcee, who lost her father to suicide, presented Alex Boyé with the Mental Health Ambassador Award. Boyé is a multicultural musical artist who has shared the stage with the likes of Jay-Z, Tim McGraw and Justin Timberlake. 

He is passionate about spreading messages of hope and light through his music — especially to people struggling with mental illness. The video for his single “Bend Not Break,” which was produced by “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, included hundreds of residents of Herriman, Utah, a community which grieved the loss of several teens to suicide in one year.  

In accepting the honor, Boyé said, “I was at the opening of the expanded Suicide Prevention Center and believe me when I tell you, the new location is full of love, unity, healing, happiness and hope. I’m so happy that Didi Hirsch exists and I’m proud to join all of you in its mission to erase the stigma of mental illness.”

Wave Staff Report