Backstage at the 2014 Voice Awards…

Kate McCauley - BlogHello, TV and Film Fans!

First, I’ll give you all the gossip if you weren’t at the annual Voice Awards. But you really missed something special, because it’s free and open to everyone. It honors peer leaders and examples in our field who give hope that recovery is real. Also, it honors TV and film writers, producers and directors, who have used the media to portray behavioral health problems and/or substance abuse throughout the world in a respectful, consciousness-raising and non-stigmatizing manner.

And it’s a lot of fun. All of the celebrities are waiting backstage in The Green Room, and I got to be there with them before they went on stage, and when they came back. Long story about why I was in The Green Room. But nonetheless it was so cool to be there. Goes like this:

You’ve got to know about the food, which is always first on my agenda. Have you ever been to a party or reception where they have hors d’oeuvres, a strange French word for tiny, heavenly, tasting things on little crackers? When I see those, I just want to grab the catering person by the ankles to get more of them. By the time I can reach up, all of them are gone.

Well, I found out that there are trays and trays of these hors d’oeuvres in The Green Room. Plus they have big bowls of iced sodas, fruit, – anything you can think of. And, if what you want isn’t there –– they’ll bring it to you, just because you asked.

I always thought The Green Room was a room painted icky green with folding chairs and a water cooler. Not so. It’s a gorgeous living room, with stuffed furniture you could float in forever. There’s a big monitor so you can watch the show going on out front in real time.

But the TV and movie stars can’t eat, because they’re too busy going over their lines, and they can’t walk out on stage with food on their clothes. So I was only helping them out by eating them all.

Plus, at the reception there were these fantastic mashed potatoes served in martini glasses with an endless array of toppings. I’d make them for myself at home, but I don’t have a martini glass, and I’m lucky enough to shop at Ralph’s.

Here’s, a myth-breaker or two: “Hollywood stars are very small and thin with big heads – which is necessary when you’re in film.” Not true, they look just like normal, (beautiful) people. They are kind and good listeners. They’re not looking over your shoulder to see who’s really important to talk to.

The veteran producer of the Voice Awards many times, Joe Kelly, was the most relaxed person of the evening – except for Keris Myrick, who presented many awards. She was also the best-dressed too. Her dress was inspired by a famous French designer. It was black with lime green silk ribbons coming from under the sleeves. Lime green is the color for Mental Health awareness. So, she couldn’t have looked more perfect. Of course, you all know that Keris is now the Director, Office of Consumer Affairs at the Center for Mental Health Services in Washington D.C. But she used to be our hometown girl, as the President and CEO of Project Return Peer Support Network. Congratulations Keris!

Great night, which I will always cherish.

2014 Voice Awards Reception

And here are a few shots from the 2014 Voice Awards reception at UCLA’s Royce Hall – August 13, 2014. Enjoy!

2014 Voice Awards Consumer/Peer Leadership Dinner

The annual Voice Awards, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), honor consumer/peer leaders in recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders who share their stories of resilience and recovery to reduce discrimination and misperceptions associated with these conditions.

The Voice Awards program also recognizes television and film writers, producers, and directors who give an accurate and dignified voice to people living with mental and/or substance use disorders.

For the last five years Project Return Peer Support Network has been a program partner for the Voice Awards and has sponsored a dinner for the Consumer/Peer Leadership award winners the night before the event. This dinner creates a unique opportunity for leaders from around the country to meet and discuss their extraordinary work. Enjoy these pictures from the 2014 Voice Awards Consumer/Peer Leadership Dinner. 

The Healing Power of Human Connection

Two recent films tell the stories of extraordinary and very different people with a common thread – the power of interpersonal connection and support. Frankie and Alice is the melodramatic tale of an African-American go-go dancer in 1970s Los Angeles who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. The documentary Finding Vivian Maier unravels the mysterious life of a brilliant street photographer whose phenomenal body of work was only discovered accidentally after her death.

Frankie and Alice

In Frankie and Alice, (based on a true story) Halle Berry creates the riveting portrayal of a woman plagued with confusing blackouts and bizarre behavioral episodes that land her in jail and psychiatric hospitals. Without a court order, hospital staff show little interest in Frankie or understanding her condition, but a renegade doctor, played by Stellan Skarsgård, believes she suffers from a trauma-induced identity disorder. He is determined to unravel the mystery of her life, pushing back on hospital management and continually reaching out to Frankie until he gains her trust. Together they explore the roots of her two distinct alternate personalities: “Alice”, a racist, Southern white woman, and “Genius”, a seven-year-old child with a genius IQ. Through the continual support of her doctor and close (albeit conflicted) relationships with family, Frankie is able find acceptance of her alternate identities and move forward with her life.

Finding Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier was an eccentric and intensely private person who supported herself as a nanny in the wealthy North Shore suburbs of Chicago for approximately 40 years. During this time she created a staggering body of powerful and original work consisting of over 100,000 photographs, short films, and audio interviews, primarily of people and cityscapes in Chicago. Her employers apparently had little interest in what she was doing. Her life’s work was only uncovered by accident in 2007 when historian and collector John Maloof, researching a book on the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park, purchased 30,000 prints and negatives that had been in an abandoned storage locker. Maloof discovered her name but was unable to find out more about her until he saw an obituary notice in the Chicago Tribune two years later. He began to unravel her legacy, eventually identifying many of the families she had worked for. Maier lived an isolated existence and had a dark side that became increasingly problematic over time. She apparently had no close friends or family and her hoarding and eccentricities eventually caused her to lose her employment. She died tragically, in complete anonymity, her life’s work unseen. Together with Charlie Siskel, Maloof has made a chronicle of his investigation with Finding Vivian Maier. You can see some of her stunning images here.

Perhaps Vivian Maier was so secretive that no one could enter her world, but I wonder whether anyone ever asked to see her work and hear her story. How might her life have been different if even one person (like Frankie’s doctor) had the persistence to connect and understand her creativity and humanity?

Multimedia for Multicultural Stigma Reduction – Tools for Change 2014

PEERS logoThe last workshop I caught at Tools for Change 2014, Multimedia for Multicultural Stigma Reduction, was presented by Shannon Eliot and Jeneé Darden from Oakland-based P.E.E.R.S. (Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services) P.E.E.R.S. is an innovative force in the recovery movement and has been on the forefront when it comes to full-spectrum communication… and it showed! I had to leave early, but I was charged up for the trip home by their enthusiasm and expertise. Here are a few communication tips I heard before taking off for the airport:

Your Website

  • Make sure your website sends a strong, clear message and accurately reflects who you are.
  • Keep it simple; make it easy to navigate and keep key links like calendars a click away.
  • is a great free blogging platform and is a powerful open-source, hosted platform for creating full business websites. WordPress has a huge online community of users and developers and there’s probably a plug-in for just about anything you might want on your site.
  • Shannon and Jenné spread the word about one of my favorites companies, where you can find in-depth, video tutorials for every conceivable piece of software, not to mention marketing and communication strategies and various business practices.


A Facebook Page is a great way for your organization to share events and stay connected with followers. Facebook communications have a more conversational tone than you might use on your corporate website. An effective Facebook Page might have a casual/promotion ratio of 80/20. People will come back for interesting and valuable photos, videos, inspirational quotes, shout-outs to allies, news updates and compelling stories. Facebook is a great place for starting conversations. When you create a new post, see if you can ask a question that will spark comments. Sometimes the most popular posts are just fun. If you create value with your Facebook Page, people will return and stay engaged with your organization. The Page Insights Facebook provides give you valuable feedback on how your communication strategy is working.

Twitter, Instagram & YouTube

With a little practice, Twitter can become a natural part of your communication strategy. Twitter is great for conversations and sharing pictures. At PRPSN we use it often for live simultaneous chats when hosting conference calls and webinars. It is also great for streaming updates at an event or seminar. Twitter hashtags (a keyword proceeded by the # sign) are a powerful tool for filtering conversations.

Instagram is something like Twitter for pictures. Since pictures are much more compelling than text, Instagram has become enormously popular for sharing quick mobile updates and letting followers know what your organization is up to.

I had to leave in the middle of the YouTube section, but I’ll just mention that there are more than 17,000 nonprofits with YouTube channels. According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network. Enough said!

Thanks to the entire P.E.E.R.S. team for a great workshop!

Did you attend Tools for Change 2014? Please share your comments!

Dr. David Satcher – Tools For Change 2014

satcher_photo1One of the highlights of the Tools for Change 2014 conference was the inspiring keynote address by Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Satcher delivered a powerful call to action, speaking to the fundamental elements of leadership and public policy change.

Dr. Satcher described leadership as a “team sport” that responds to opportunities, challenges, and crises. Effective leadership requires a global perspective and has the ability to transform communities. Leadership is like a relay race, we have to pass the baton to others to keep this movement going.

“When it comes to mental health, we live in a global community,” Dr. Satcher told the audience. “Our health system is bigger than any other, yet we leave many people out. We’ve got to be in the business of influencing and changing policy … In order to eliminate disparities in health, we need leaders who care enough, know enough, will do enough, and are persistent enough.”

Dr. Satcher emphasized the importance a hard science in shaping public policy. He described the reports he released as Surgeon General and the continual evolution of policy recommendations as research grows.

Describing mental health as, “The successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with others, and the ability to adapt to change and to successfully cope with adversity,” Dr. Satcher told the audience that mental disorders are as disabling as cancer and heart disease in terms of premature death and lost productivity. Research has improved our ability to recognize, diagnose, and treat these conditions effectively, making it possible to treat 80% to 90% of mental disorders with medication and other therapeutic approaches.

Despite that progress that has been made, fewer than half of all adults, and one third of all children get the help they need. Stigma is major deterrent to treatment, keeping individuals, family, and community members from acknowledging problems and seeking help, and impeding governmental and private sector policies and services. Dr. Satcher described how culture, both social and among healthcare providers, can impact the way people experience and describe illnesses, whether they seek treatment,  and whether the healthcare system itself can respond to their needs.

Dr. Satcher continually emphasized that recovery is possible and that positive changes in our culture and healthcare system require strong leadership and a collective voice. His example is powerful, and his work continues, guided by the pursuit of scientific knowledge and a tireless commitment to alleviating unnecessary suffering.

“Not only is recovery possible, recovery is beautiful!” – Dr. David Satcher

Reducing Stigma Through Parity – Tools For Change 2014

Disability Rights CA

What is Mental Health Parity and why does it matter to me?

Mental Health Parity entitles consumers to equal coverage for mental health services. For example, health care plans cannot impose a cap on outpatient visits for mental health services if no such cap is required for outpatient physical health care. This is a rapidly developing area of both federal and California law and there is much confusion amongst providers and insurance companies. Many consumers do not understand their rights or how to advocate for themselves. This is a key issue in the local and national efforts to reduce the stigma of mental health conditions.

Reducing Stigma Through Parity Workshop

This Tools For Change 2014 workshop, presented by Laura Reich and Leo Alfaro of Disability Rights California, and Nancy Shea of Mental Health Advocacy Services, clarified the difference between federal and state laws and taught strategies for working with insurance companies and health care providers, to ensure that parity is achieved.

Historically, insurance companies have not covered physical health and mental health/substance abuse disorders equally. Typically this has meant fewer types of services, greater restrictions and higher costs for treatment. This disparity has created stigma and discrimination.

A little history: Moving Towards Parity

  • 1996: Congress passes the first federal parity law
  • 1999: California passed the Mental Health Parity Act which was broader than the 1996 federal law.
  • 2008: Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA)
  • 2010: The Affordable Car Act (ACA) extended the MHPAEA to more health plans

 The California and Federal parity laws contain different provisions and overlap in areas making it important for Californians to understand the scope of both statutes.

 California Parity Law

The California Mental Health Parity Act applies to:

  •  Health plans regulated by the state
  • Adults who have “severe mental illnesses”
  • Children who have “severe emotional disturbances”

The Act does not apply to “self-funded” plans (this includes many large employer and union plans), Medicare, Medi-Cal, and Veterans Administration health plans.

For more information on what is specifically covered in the California Mental Health Parity law see the California Mental Parity Act FAQ.


The 2008 federal MHPAEA applies to:

  •  Employer-based plans with more than 50 members
  • Qualified Health Plans offered on the exchange (1.e. Covered California)
  • Most small group plans
  • Medi-Cal Managed Care Plans
  • Medi-Cal Benchmark and Benchmark-Equivalent Plans (Affordable Care Act MediCal expansion)

The MHPAEA does not apply to:

  •  Grandfathered small group plans
  • Medicare Part A and B
  • Veterans Administration health plans
  • Tricare

 What do I do if I think my rights have been violated?

First, determine if you have a legitimate grievance under California and/or federal laws. You can contact the legal services organization in your County for assistance.

Next, file an internal appeal with your health plan. This can be a one or two step process. Be sure to include your name, claim number, insurance ID number, contact information, provider’s name, and information supporting your claim for coverage. Stick with it, make sure you meet all the appropriate deadlines, and keep detailed records. If your claim is denied, you can file for an “Independent Medical Review” where doctors who are not part of your health services plan will review your case.

Disability Rights California and the other County-specific legal services organizations can provide support, many helpful documents, and ongoing updates as this story unfolds.

California Mental Health Parity Act FAQ

Disability Rights CaliforniaThanks to Disability Rights California, (800) 776-5746 for providing this information.

What is considered a “severe mental illness” under California law?

The California parity law includes a list of “severe mental illnesses” for adults, as defined in the law. It also lists the following diagnoses specifically:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder, or autism
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

“Serious emotional disturbances in a child” is defined as:

  • One or more mental disorders as identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and,
  • Meets the criteria in W&I Code section 5600.3(a)(2)

What terms and conditions must be equal under California parity laws?

The following must be equal for mental and physical health care:

  • Maximum lifetime benefits
  • Co-payments
  • Deductibles

What coverages are included in the law?

  • Outpatient services
  • Inpatient services
  • Partial hospital services
  • Prescription drugs (if the plan covers prescription drugs)

Contact the legal services organization in your county for more information about the California Parity Law.

California’s Protection and Advocacy System – Legal Services Resources


Organization, Phone, Website, Counties Served

Disability Rights California, (800) 776-5746   (916) 504-5800,, Alpine – Amador – Butte – Calaveras – Colusa – Del Norte – El Dorado – Fresno – Glenn – Humbodlt – Inyo – Kern – Kings – Lake – Lassen – Madera – Mariposa – Mendocino – Merced – Modoc – Mono – Nevada – Placer – Plumas – Sacramento – San Joaquin – Santa Barbara – Shasta – Sierra – Siskiyou – Stanislaus – Sutter – Tehama – Trinity – Tulare – Tuolumne – Ventura – Yolo – Yuba

Legal Aid Society of San Diego Inc., (877) 534-2524,, Imperial – Orange – Riverside – San Bernardino – San Diego

Mental Health Advocacy Project, (408) 293-4790,, Alameda – Contra Costa – Marin – Monterey – Napa – San Benito – San Francisco – San Luis Obispo – San Mateo – Santa Clara – Santa Cruz – Solana\o – Sonoma

Mental Health Advocacy Services, (213) 389-2077,, Los Angeles


California Disability Rights