BEVERLY HILLS — Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services honored music icon Judy Collins, “Touched With Fire” writer and director Paul Dalio, and actress-filmmaker Anna Akana at its annual “Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards” April 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Melissa Rivers was the evening’s emcee.
The event celebrated the nonprofit agency’s 75th anniversary of service and raised more than $620,000 for its activities as a leading provider of community mental health and substance use services in Los Angeles County.
Didi Hirsch is also home to the nation’s first suicide prevention center and is a national leader in providing training, research and services to people contemplating suicide, concerned loved ones and those who have attempted or are grieving a loss.
Collins, whose son Clark killed himself in 1992 and who herself has struggled with substance use and mental illness, received the 2017 Beatrice Stern Media Award for her efforts to raise awareness about suicide and mental illness.
In an interview with reporter Michael Harrison of “Up Close and Far Out” before the event, she said: “I have written extensively about the secrets of my family, fundamentally, the alcoholism, and I’ve written about my life as a survivor, what I’ve done to get through it and get over it, and I like to share that with people. That’s why this award is an honor.”
Collins’ performance, which included “Both Sides Now” and “Amazing Grace,” closed the event with a standing ovation.
“General Hospital” veteran actor Maurice Benard, a 2002 honoree, presented the Leadership Award to Dalio, who said, “I do believe that stigma is the root of most problems associated with bipolar disorder. So to me, it’s the biggest honor to have such an impactful organization give an award to the thing that I consider to be the biggest problem with bipolar.”
Dalio’s film debut, “Touched With Fire,” was inspired by his own experience and explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity in a story of two young poets who fall in love while hospitalized with bipolar disorder.
Akana, accepted the Mental Health Ambassador Award from veteran actor George Segal, who talked about his own experience with panic attacks. Honored for using her popular YouTube channel to promote awareness about mental illness and suicide, Akana accepted the award on behalf of her 13-year-old sister, Kristina, who killed herself in 2007.
“I have friends I can talk to. My sister didn’t,” Akana said. “She didn’t have anyone she felt she could open up to. … Today, there are things like Didi Hirsch’s Chat Services. … If my sister had been able to chat with someone that day, I don’t know, things might have turned out differently.”
Rivers, who was honored with the Beatrice Stern Media Award in 2016, hosted this year’s event with humor and grace. “The more you talk about things, the less frightening they are,” she said. “This event and what Didi Hirsch does and offers to so many people is just phenomenal.”