Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Health Care Reform & PRISM Awards

If you don’t know anything specific about the health care reform law you probably have been entertained by media reporting because it has provoked powerful debate and speculation among our policy makers on Capitol Hill. Is health care reform right? Is it wrong? Is it constitutional? As the debate goes on and the constitutionality is tested, the opposing sides seem to get further and further apart, and many people began to forget that it’s about health and wellness, the preservation of sound bodies and minds, and not just about who’s right or wrong. As far as entertainment programming and media goes, there is an opportunity to point to the reform elements as it may affect individual lives.

There’s a correlation of elements of the health care law (if it continues after the repeals and the battle in courts…) that mirror some elements of the PRISM Awards. For example, EIC spotlights mental health (almost half of the 14th Annual PRISM submissions were on the topic of mental health), and the new law includes provisions for mental health. Some of the provisions being the following:

• A five-year pilot program in Medicaid to fund medical homes for people with psychiatric disabilities;
• Set minimum requirements regarding services that health plans must cover including mental health and substance abuse services, and new adaptations for preexisting conditions;
• Developing a national strategy to increase research into effective prevention strategies and expanding prevention services, including attention to mental health, to be implemented at the community level;
• Increased access to services that can prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer greatly improve the lives of people with severe mental illnesses.

These provisions also reflect a topic that I think gets lost in the technicalities: connecting the head and the body into one whole person! For many years, government spending has separated the head and the body in terms of advocacy, research and treatment. Mental health and physical health have been placed on different platforms. These provisions recognize that one’s overall health will benefit by recognizing and treating the whole individual. EIC strives to connect mental health and physical health, often by reinforcing the reality that addiction is a brain disease often accompanied by co-occurring physical and mental ramifications, and sometimes vice versa. Maybe you feel that health care reform hasn’t done anything right, that it is all wrong, but at least it’s brought valuable awareness to the co-occurring circumstances of mental health and physical health melding into one living human being.

There are no easy solutions to making the general audience aware of the implications of this massive 2,074 page law. However, through the unique quality of the entertainment industry’s creative process audiences can gain several perspectives, as portrayed by the characters and stories told. This year’s PRISM Awards showcased multiple works in the entertainment industry that demonstrated this, while still entertaining their audience. One production to receive a PRISM Award this year was The Soloist, for displaying the devastating effects of a mental illness as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx’s characters. USA Network’s comedy series Monk also picked up a PRISM Award, for its use of comedy to portrayal mental health. Other PRISM winners that highlighted mental health were Rosie O’Donnell for her role in America, and episodes of Law and Order and Dr. Phil.

Through movies, television shows and even comic books you get a wide range of stories based on health and social issues, and the realization that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay…and certainly wading through the law might be one of those occasions. Again, uniquely the entertainment industry has the creative ability to foster messages that lawmakers and politicians may not, which is why it’s important we work together to distill information in a manner that can be understood.

The way EIC and the PRISM Awards spotlights mental health and the fact that there are provisions for mental health in the reform law shows that we’re at least making connections that health is health is health. Let’s continue to deal with the whole person. Let’s not separate the mind and body.

Click the following link for more information on this year's 14th Annual PRISM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-XxRHdpz8Q Awards
Posted by Brian Dyak, CEO/President, Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mental Illness in the Media

Heath Ledger’s posthumous appearance as the Joker in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight" this month seems likely to rekindle media speculation that his tragic death in January was a drug-induced suicide.

That’s unfortunate because there is, after all, no conclusive evidence for conjecture that the talented Aussie actor was so mentally depressed that he deliberately ended his life with a drug overdose.

In fact, speculation and gossip linking his death to alleged substance abuse does a disservice to him, his family and his friends. By all accounts, Ledger was a hard-working and respected actor, who — quite tragically — has been taken from us in his prime.

As his final performance draws wide acclaim from delighted audiences, it is important that journalists take care to accurately report about his life and untimely death. Exploitation of his death will only perpetuate existing stigmas about mental health illness, a disease that strikes about one in four Americans in varying forms each year.

The taboo associated with mental illness is deep-rooted and longstanding. For centuries, mental disorders were viewed as a disgrace to be kept quiet and swept under the rug. Patients were separated, locked behind closed doors or put on freakish display to satisfy society’s mass fascination with schadenfreude gone morbid.

Even today, for too many people the term "mental disorder" conjures up fiendish images. The media can — and should — be an unrelenting force combating such stigmas and encouraging people to seek treatment for mental illness.

What many people fail to realize is that mental illness is widespread — leaving no community untouched. Each year, nearly 60 million American adults experience some type of mental health disorder. These disorders can be life threatening — while suicide is a relatively rare occurrence, it is the leading cause of violent deaths worldwide.

A vast majority of people who die by their own hand suffer from a mental illness — often undiagnosed and untreated despite the availability of a growing number of effective treatment options. Annually, less than one-third of adults and one-half of all children with diagnosable mental disorders receive any mental health services.

Reasons for not seeking treatment vary widely. Some people may not recognize or correctly identify the symptoms of mental illness — symptoms often missed by their families and friends as well. Others simply may be reluctant to seek care because of the illnesses’ perceived stigma.

Ongoing education and disease awareness initiatives that emphasize our expanding abilities to treat mental disorders — not sensationalism — are our best hope for permanently erasing the stigma surrounding these illnesses.

Research already shows that the most effective way to reduce stigma is through personal contact with someone with a mental illness. Developing a personal understanding of the science and the facts will make Americans less likely to stigmatize mental illnesses and more likely to seek or encourage treatment.

A targeted public awareness campaign — funded at the level of recent, successful anti-smoking campaigns — will make great strides in educating the public that mental illnesses are biological disorders that can be reliably diagnosed and effectively treated. We have yet to fully carve out a place for mental health within our healthcare system that comes close to the attention we devote to physical illnesses.

Accurate depictions of mental illness in the media and in entertainment can help move us forward. The media and entertainment industries have tackled enormous issues over the years — helping the world gain a better understanding of such complex health concerns as HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and hunger.

The challenge now is to ensure that mental illness receives the same kind of enlightened treatment across the board.

Achieving that will go a long way toward finally stomping out the unfair stigmas that prevent so many Americans from recovering and leading happy, productive lives.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cut It Out: Anderson Cooper and I Aren’t the Only Ones with Skin Cancer

Time is bolting by with March Madness already upon us and some great basketball being played— love that edge-of-your-seat overtime rush. All this interspersed with the political volleyball of the race for the presidency.

Even with all this going on, EIC is hard at work, launching depiction endeavors on a myriad of health issues with the creative community. We are focusing on work to bring greater attention and understanding of bipolar disorder, diabetes, PTSD, depression and other health and social issues. We also have been active on Capitol Hill, announcing our D.C.-based plans for 2008, and we are grateful for such a positive response from members of the House and Senate.

One of the more challenging endeavors of our work at EIC is taking on long-established norms. A prime example is EIC’s management of the Sun Safety Alliance, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing and raising awareness about skin cancer. Check it out at sunsafetyalliance.org. I have been involved with this organization since it was founded, and have learned that because of the tan-is-beautiful norm in our culture today, it is essential to continually communicate sun safe practices.

Lauded CNN anchorman and intrepid journalist Anderson Cooper just had his face sliced to remove basal cell carcinoma, a type of non-melanoma skin cancer that happens to be the most common form of cancer in the United States. I am glad that positive reports are stating that it was all cut out. But what does “all cut out” really mean?

Now here is juxtaposition…three-time Olympian Jeff Nygaard, the Bret Favre of Professional Beach Volleyball also has gone under the knife for melanoma, the skin cancer that kills. Fortunately, Jeff caught his cancer before it did irreversible damage to his health. In fact, he is so well recovered that you can catch him on tour this season. But skin cancer isn’t behind him: Jeff is using his voice to remind sun and beach lovers that the time you take to be realistic about the harmful effects of too much sun could save your life.

Jeff and I have been working together recently to raise awareness about skin cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer and one that is almost always 100% preventable. I salute Jeff for speaking out about his own bout with melanoma. His passion to steer young people away from risky exposure to UV radiation is heartfelt and he is voraciously taking on the challenges of defying tanning (or burning) norms that have been established for decades, and seem to have grown in popularity over the past few years. You can read more about how the reality of melanoma hit home for Jeff as he shares his story in this spring’s Sun Safety Alliance newsletter.

In case you’re wondering why I care so much about skin cancer, I have a confession to make.

I have gone under the knife three times to rid myself of the pesky squamous cell carcinoma, the second most prevalent form of skin cancer. You will be hearing a lot about skin cancer prevention from EIC and, yes, I take this effort personally. Trust me, once you are facing the life-or-death consequences of something that could have been prevented by wearing a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen, you wake up. Think about how a deep golden brown tan today may cost you years of your life, and years of time with your children and other loved ones and hopefully you will wake up too, if you’re not already awake to this disease, which scars and kills millions of people.

UV radiation affects everyone, from news anchors to athletes, and everywhere in between. Had I only known that all my unprotected fun in the sun would result in cuts and stitches, I would have lathered up with sunscreen regularly, hung out in the shade more, wore a hat, and compromised my vanity for healthier skin and a healthier life. As I get younger at heart, my skin is getting older than it needs to be, all because of sun damage.

Keep an eye out for our work on skin cancer prevention. We will be bringing sun-safe animated characters to preschoolers, survivor messages to adolescents, supporting moms to take a stand for safe sun practices, and working to create a future where common sense rules. I encourage you to learn, don’t burn. Help to prevent skin cancer for your own sake and the sake of your friends and loved ones….the norm can change from people damaging their skin and health to being sun safe. Australians have been on to this for years. Now it’s our time to help prevent a highly preventable and deadly disease—skin cancer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Celebrity Rehab

It’s all good! On the eve of the writer’s strikes ending, lots of good things are going on at EIC and the PRISM Awards. We’ve expanded our staff, we have bright new interns, several new industry briefings are in the works, we’ve engaged lots of new volunteers, and new publications (addressing depression/suicide prevention and intellectual disabilities) are just waiting to be shipped to show runners and writers the minute the creative community is back in their offices. I’m also excited about working with a new Congressional session, and dynamic new business partners. By most accounts, 2008 is shaping up to be a great year.

But I do have one ax to grind. I’m bugged by a lot of comments I’ve heard—and articles I’ve read—about celebrities going into rehab.

With 25 years of experience bridging the entertainment and health industries, I am uniquely qualified to respond to the finger-pointing, poking, prodding, lens clicking and tittering that surround celebrity rehab.

And I’ve got something to say.

First and foremost, the celebrity rehab we read about is not a joke for people’s amusement. Thanks to our newly tabloid-driven pop culture, we—and our children—have unprecedented access to what addiction and mental illness look like. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and over two dozen other people gained headlines in 2007 for entering addiction recovery centers.

These are lives at risk, out of control, not jokes, and not reality television shows taking place on the streets of Hollywood for public amusement. If we pay attention, we can see complex stories unfolding before our eyes. One of EIC’s primary principles is to be non-judgmental and respect creative freedom afforded in our great nation. For those who judge mental health, making judgment on these people’s lives, I ask:

Who the hell are you?

Do you think you are better than these people? Stronger? Smarter?

Give me a break.

Addiction and mental health issues affect every cross-section of our population. If you’re laughing now at Britney Spears, will you be laughing in five or ten years when, heaven forbid, your niece, uncle, sister, brother, even your mother or your own son or daughter loses control of his or her life? Will it be funny then?

This new access to the private lives of celebrities who face constant scrutiny and challenges unimaginable by most people—and is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it exposes us to the waking nightmare that losing control of one’s life can be, but on the other hand, it has opened dialogue about addiction and mental illness that has, until now, been hush-hush. While I, like most of America, am truly worried about Britney Spears’s health and safety, I am glad to say I have witnessed a national shift from bemused fascination with her spontaneous antics to recognition of her condition as critically ill, and a new awareness of the real point of rehabilitation: to get better.

VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, A&E’s Intervention, HBO’s Rehab—these are important, revolutionary shows that serve the public in a unique and valuable way. The insights just might help someone, and that is good.

Taking steps to fight and beat the struggles that come along with addiction, being self honest with oneself and ideally healthier is a process not unlike walking through a maze blindfolded. And the good news is, a whole lot of folks find a valuable piece of themselves that they never knew existed in the process. Some make it to the betterment of their own lives, the lives of families, friends, and society.

So the next time you get a peek into the lives of Britney, Lindsay, Mel Gibson, Kirsten Dunst, Pat O’Brien, Eva Mendes, Marc Jacobs, Jesse Mefcalfe, Eddie Van Halen, Amy Winehouse and others, be thankful for what you’ve got and respect them for seeking help rather than looking down on them for having real problems. If their stories make you query your own actions, consider following their good example and ask for help. Thanks to new public attention to the recovery process, which can include relapses, we must stop mocking and start understanding.

Their stories may be the gift others find to deter the sadness of losing friends, family and great, late artists like Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro, and others…you know the list.

John Goodman recently made a telling comment about his recent work in rehab:

"For my family and myself, I voluntarily took the necessary steps to remain sober the rest of my life."

Go for it, John, and thanks for sharing. Yes, “thanks for sharing,” that often-repeated mantra: When anyone, but particularly someone who receives national or worldwide attention because of his or her name, shares experiences of such a personal nature, it really does mean something in the big picture.

Here’s a new reality we all need to face: Going to rehab should be a personal and private experience, but since it’s not for so many, why don’t support those who face it openly and publicly. Why can’t we accept these people as real, as we all are …imperfect human beings, as role models who can show us how to take time to help ourselves when we need it most?

I ask: Is this a problem with role models, or a bad habit of accusing and laughing at other people’s problems?

Cheers to John Goodman and everyone else who has the strength and courage to ask for help and to do so in the public eye.

Everyone below received attention over the past year for entering rehab. I list these people to celebrate them as messengers for the rest of us—as evidence that addiction and mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of fame and fortune. They are among thousands of people who have been strong enough and smart enough to seek help for their own good and for the good of the people who love them. Many of these celebrities are loved by us—so let’s stop pointing the finger at them and start supporting them as they work to win their lives back!

Daniel Baldwin

Seth "Shifty" Benzer

Pat O'Brien

Selma Blair

Mary Carey


Jeff Conaway

Tara Conner

Pete Doherty

Kirsten Dunst

Jaimee Foxworth

John Goodman

Marc Jacobs

Lindsay Lohan

Eva Mendes

Jesse Metcalfe

Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Joe Nichols

Brigitte Nielsen

Michael Osmond

Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez

Richie Sambora

Jessica Sierra

Britney Spears

Keith Urban

Eddie Van Halen

Scott Weiland

Amy Winehouse

Robbie Williams

Sean Young

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Maurice Benard PSA and Interview Shoot

Here are some of the stills from last night's shoot with General Hospital's *star* Maurice Benard! He got up-close-and-personal with EIC yesterday, talking about his experience living with bipolar disorder in real life as well as onscreen.

Photo credit: Kristi Foreman

Photo credit: Kristi Foreman

Photo credit: Kristi Foreman

Check back soon on our YouTube channel for the PSA and clips from last night's shoot!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Online Madness

These days the holiday season means searching online for shopping deals, holiday ring tones, season-themed screensavers and wallpapers. Political campaigns have pounced into cyberspace with a vengeance to find voters, using YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo, and on and on…reaching out to the keyboard ticklers.

I decided to take a look at a couple of our YouTube placements and was pleased to see that a couple hundred thousand viewers have taken a look at Stop the Madness (EIC’s anti-drug anthem), which premiered in 1985 on the late NBC Friday Night Videos, as well as our skin cancer awareness and prevention PSAs, which premiered on CBS last year. The fact that the Internet has exposed hundreds of thousands of people to both old and new public service messages is an amazing anomaly in the do-good health communications field.

The fact is, reaching out to 200 thousand people with such messages using first-class mail would cost over $80,000. Placing the spots on television has its own costs, including many people hours, and limits exposure to each 10-, 15- or 30-second PSA airing window. Simply put, the Internet is making a difference not only in how people view media, but in what is available and what people are free to view.

Regardless of one’s opinion of how well “Stop the Madness” has held up over time (I like to consider it a classic.), I would never have guessed when producing it that it would have an audience today. And yes, when you read the comments on YouTube, you will see that those in the video now raise questions: pro football’s Lyle Alzado died from suspected drug use, David Hasselhoff has had his personal confrontations with alcohol use, and Whitney Houston has battled her own alleged addictions. However, the majority of the stars who donated their time and talents for the video have managed to live scandal-free lives. One of them is even the governor of a little state called California!

And you know what? Regardless of past, present or future personal problems, all of the celebrities featured made a commitment: they donated their time and talent to do something to tell young people to stay clear of drugs, that—as the lyrics state—“drugs are causing pain, so Stop the Madness, Stop the Madness now!” In its heyday, Stop the Madness was played in heavy rotation on TV and a dance remix was a hit in clubs throughout the country. It is a great surprise that STM has been re-discovered as modest as it may be. Though styles changes, the message of the song is still the message!

I am still grateful for the contributions of all of the stars involved in Stop the Madness, and I would personally welcome back any of these great people, including The Hoff and Whitney, to work with us as we move into and beyond our 25th anniversary this year. Addiction is a disease, not a scarlet letter, and recovery is a life-long process.

As we enter the holiday season, consider taking your own inventory…if you haven’t given of your time and talent, or made donations to help others, what you are waiting for? Your support of EIC now will last well into the future. If you are sharing yourself in the best interest of others, you are in good company and thank you.

My offering to you is a look back in time at EIC’s Stop the Madness video. Feel free to have a chuckle at the dated hairstyles and clothes, or even the direction—hey, it was made before MTV perfected the art of slick music videos!—but then take a look at the lyrics. Unfortunately, cocaine has made a resurgence and meth and other drugs have wreaked devastation on people throughout the country. We still need to stop the madness, and we need your support to do it.



I believe that together you and I can save a life today.

We can stop a killer from reaching into minds and throwing lives away.
Drugs are causing pain and everyone's a loser in this deadly game that's played.
It's insanity. We know that dope is slavery.

And you know we've got to be free ... come on now, we've got to stop the madness.

Stop the madness now.

Stop the madness.
Stop the madness now.

Tell me what you're doing trying to get some pleasure from an empty high.
Only fools will tell you using drugs is really a victimless crime.
There are casualties standing at the graves of children.
Feel the tears they cry.

Take a stand today; maybe it's your life you'll save.
You know there's got to be another way; everybody let me hear you say ...

Stop the madness.
Stop the madness now.
Stop the madness.
Stop the madness now.

Brother, we heard your cry for some assistance.
Drugs are making your mind a man-made hell.

You thought that using dope would be a party.
Now you're a prisoner in a cell crying to be free.

You wanna stop the madness.
Stop the madness now.
Stop the madness.
Stop the madness now.

Friday, November 9, 2007

“Content is King”: The Power of Words on Strike

"CONTENT IS KING" ...this phrase became the entertainment industry mantra in the 1980s and ‘90s as broadcast and cable television began to offer the vast selection of programming provided to audiences today.

And who has been responsible for the glorious explosion of new shows, and a multitude of productions? The writers AND the “suits,” working together to build creative business models that fostered the most dynamic entertainment industry in the world.

Together, the creative-minded and business-minded people in our industry have generated entertainment that has been beamed to space and back, and enjoyed by millions and millions of viewers around the world. Our industry is a unique collaborative effort, sustaining jobs for artisans, crafts people, technicians, business professionals who expertly (each in their own way) wrap their skills, education and talents around the written words of writers...the same words that are judged and embraced by audiences around the world.Throughout our history, EIC has been graced with contributions from hundreds of talented people from all facets of the entertainment industry, including many talented writers.

It is not EIC's place in our industry to take sides on the strike, as we work with content that is produced by the collaboration of writers, directors, producers, executives, and everyone else that makes great entertainment happen.

It is, however, our place to encourage the reconciliation needed to continue to move our industry into the future.

It is our place to point out the fact that leaders on both sides of the strike can and will foster an equitable resolution.

And it is our place to maintain optimism that this fair resolution will be reached soon.

It is also our place to support everyone whose professional and personal lives are affected by the writers’ strike—which is to say, just about everyone in the business, and our loyal audiences whose lives are moved and sometimes improved by the content we create.

Words are waiting to be written, stories to be told. Deals are waiting to be made. Behind the stories and the deals are people who are waiting to get back to work.

That said, I have hope that this experience be a short passage to a stronger, more united and even more successful entertainment industry in which content remains king, and the people who create content can get back to the art of making a difference.