President Obama Enlists Hollywood for Mental Health Awareness Campaign

Glenn Close
Glenn Close
 

President Obama wants people to pay closer attention to mental illness, and he's turning to Hollywood for help.

The two-step process starts with a White House summit Monday, with Vice President Joe Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The goal of the summit is to start a national conversation about mental health, removing any stigma around it so afflicted people will feel free to seek help.

They'll be joined by two entertainment industry stalwarts with personal connections to mental health issues: Glenn Close and the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, Gordon Smith.

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Close, who co-founded the nonprofit awareness group Bring Change 2 Mind, has said she first became aware of mental health problems when she starred in Fatal Attraction in 1987. Her sister Jessie grew up with severe bouts of depression and tried to commit suicide several times before being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Her nephew Calen has also been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

She's also the narrator of a PBS documentary that started airing last week in California, A New State of Mind: Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness. 

Smith, a former U.S. Senator from Oregon, wrote about his son's suicide at age 22 in his 2006 book, Remembering Garrett: One Family’s Battle With A Child’s Depression. While in the Senate, Smith also helped get passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act to help fight the problem of youth suicide.

(One subject the summit won't address is guns. When the gathering was first announced in May, press secretary Jay Carney described it as part of an effort to reduce gun violence. But after guns proved a political hot potato, they've since disappeared from announcements.)

And here's where Hollywood comes in. In order to help, the NAB, the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) and the California Mental Health Services Authority are teaming up to give movie and TV producers tools to more accurately portray mental health challenges.

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Part of that effort is a rollout of public service announcements prepared by Ogilvy Public Relations. The PSAs, backed by the NAB, will air on 7,500 member radio and television stations across the U.S.

Then, on August 8th, the EIC will present an event on a studio lot in Los Angeles for scriptwriters, producers, directors, performers and execs. Along with panels of experts, the producers, studios and networks will be offered a toolkit and resources in both English and Spanish – including story ideas – provided by TEAM Up (Tools for Entertainment and Media).

The event is paid for through the Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63) passed by voters in 2004, and the group it created, the California Mental Health Authority. While that group gets government funding, it's not an official state agency.

“Media and entertainment professionals can play a significant role in the public’s understanding of mental health,” said Brian Dyak, the EIC's president and ceo. “Inaccurate portrayals of individuals living with mental illness can fuel misconceptions that could lead to subsequent discrimination and deter individuals from seeking help for mental health challenges."

In a statement, the White House outlined the President's goals: 

"The conference will bring together people from across the country, including representatives from state and local governments, mental health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, and individuals who have struggled with mental health problems, to discuss how we can all work together to reduce stigma and help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health problems recognize the importance of reaching out for assistance."

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