Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Rick Springfield, Emmy, SAG, Tony and Golden Globe Award-nominated actor Oliver Platt, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Tackle Joe Barksdale were honored at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ 22nd Annual Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards on Thursday, April 26 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The event always takes place at the end of April to bring awareness that May is Mental Health Month.
The event marked the 60th anniversary of the agency’s Suicide Prevention Center, the nation’s first, and raised over $700,000 to help provide mental health and substance use services for low-income families in Los Angeles and Orange Counties and suicide prevention services for people affected by suicide nationwide. The event also launched the Suicide Prevention Center capital campaign to create a new stand-alone center in Century City that can meet rising demand for services. The new building, which is under renovation and is expected to open its doors in late summer, will include a Mental Health Clinic and a Training Academy for mental health professionals.
An accomplished actor, writer and Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, Rick Springfield received the Beatrice Stern Media Award for his work as a mental health advocate who has openly talked about his depression and suicide attempt as teen. “I grew up thinking I’ve just got to become famous, successful, wealthy, have a house with a wife and kids and it (my depression) will all go away. In 1985, I had all those things and I wanted to kill myself. I realized the lie of fame right there—that it wasn’t going to heal me.” Springfield said he wished he had known about Didi Hirsch when he was 16. “It might have helped a lot.” Springfield said that he speaks about his depression in order to encourage others who struggle with it, especially kids, to seek help. “I am here as a servant,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help, I am here for that.”
Springfield’s award was presented by his longtime friend, Emmy-winning actor Doug Davidson who shared with the audience that he too, struggles with depression. “We all know 16 is a difficult time for anyone, and it was for Rick, too. He didn’t like the way he looked. He thought his ankles were too thin. He hated his nose. This is teenage angst. But by talking about it, he became a role model for teens everywhere. When you find out a rock superstar went through the same kind of angst and depression you’re going through, it helps you realize you can get through it, too.”
Oliver Platt, a multiple Emmy, SAG, Tony and Golden Globe Award-nominated actor receive the 2018 Leadership Award for his sensitive and intelligent portrayal of an Emergency Room psychiatrist on NBC’s Chicago Med. Platt said he’s glad his character has helped to erase stigma and inspire people with mental illness to feel more comfortable seeking treatment. Acknowledging the writers who helped bring Dr. Charles to life, Platt said he knows they would agree that the real heroes are mental health workers like those from Didi Hirsch who support those affected by mental illness and “teach us that it isn’t ‘other people,’ it’s all of us.”
Platt received the award from Nick Gehlfuss, a fellow cast member who plays a resident physician on Chicago Med. Noting that he has mental illness in his family, Gehlfuss said he personally appreciates what Platt is doing on the show to erase stigma. “Sometimes entertainment opens the door to important cultural shifts. I love that Chicago Med has a character like Dr. Charles who is so reassuring and patient that people with mental illness in real life may feel more comfortable reaching out for help,” Gehlfuss said.
Didi Hirsch also recognized Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation with a Leadership Award for its work empowering and educating youth about the stigma of mental illness and advocating against bullying and teen suicide. Cynthia Germanotta, who co-founded the foundation with her daughter, Lady Gaga, received the award from Taryn Bird, a young friend whose mother died by suicide 18 months ago.
Bird, a senior director for Kate Spade New York’s social enterprise project, described Germanotta as “the first person who gave me permission to be fully present in my grief…Your warm and empathetic demeanor told me I was safe, that I was not alone, and that it was not my fault.”
Germanotta said she was honored by the award and “thankful to Didi Hirsch for bringing us all together for such a wonderful evening and for their decades of leadership in the mental health space…From their Suicide Prevention Center, the first of its kind in the country, to their participation in Lifeline Chat, which is there for people in crisis, including countless young people, Didi Hirsch is making the difference between life and death for thousands each year. But more than that, they are working to change the conversation around mental health.”
Germanotta also described herself as “the mom of daughters who have struggled with their own mental health,” saying: “My daughter Stefani, who many of you know as Lady Gaga, was unique and very much her own person when she was growing up. Unique can be a tough thing when you’re a child though, and her peers didn’t always appreciate her differences. As a result, she was sometimes taunted, humiliated and excluded. It made her start to question herself and undermined her confidence and, over time, it contributed to her issues with anxiety and depression. As difficult as these experiences were for her to live through and for me to watch happen as her mom, they not only helped to shape the tough and incredibly compassionate woman she has become, it helped lay the groundwork for the work we have undertaken together at Born This Way Foundation,” Germanotta said.
At the end of her remarks, Germanotta read a statement from Lady Gaga about the importance of validating the feelings of those with mental health issues. “When they tell you they are having self-harm urges or suicidal ideation, don’t just listen. Believe them and tell them you believe them. And our next steps are to direct them to mental health professionals who can help them understand their feelings…so they can learn new patterns and see the light through the dark forests of their minds.”
LA Chargers offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who has been tackling the stigma of mental illness by talking honestly about his struggles with depression and frequent thoughts of suicide, received a Mental Health Ambassador Award. Noting that his job in football is “to protect people,” Barksdale said his goal in speaking out about depression “has always been to help people…we need to be nicer to each other. Not because you never know what someone’s going through or out of some kind of ulterior motive. I think that in today’s society, there’s a serious deficit when it come to love and spreading love to each other. I think we should do it (be nicer to each other) just because it’s something cool to do.”
Jeff Fisher, who served as the Rams’ head coach while Barksdale played for the team, sent in a videotaped message congratulating Barksdale as he was unable to attend in person. Barksdale, who was the Chargers 2015 “Lineman of the Year,” took up guitar four years ago at Fisher’s suggestion and just produced his first CD, titled “Butterflies, Rainbows & Moonbeams.”
Said Didi Hirsch’s President/CEO Dr. Kita S. Curry: “Our honorees brought depression and suicide out of the shadows. When I asked the audience who knew someone who had attempted or died by suicide to stand, almost everyone did. That shows what an incredible impact our honorees and presenters are making in the world.”