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Athletes, Social Workers in spotlight at Voice Awards

Dr. Drew Pinsky (center) greets social workers Brigitte Khani (left) and Sherry Gaba at the Voice Awards in Los Angeles. Gaba did behind-the-scenes counseling for Pinsky’s “Celebrity Rehab” on VH1.

Women’s professional basketball star and Olympic gold medal winner Chamique Holdsclaw seemed to be on top of the world.

But what many did not know is that Holdsclaw was battling depression so severe she would lock herself in her home for days on end, eating nothing but Fruity Pebbles cereal. Eventually she overdosed on medication and was hospitalized under suicide watch.

“Inside I was slowly dying,” said Holdsclaw, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft by the Washington Mystics.

However, Holdsclaw recovered with the help of professionals and went on to share her story with thousands of others, especially African Americans who may be reluctant to admit they are battling mental illness.

Holdsclaw and fellow athletes Chris Herren (formerly of the Boston Celtics), Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) all received 2012 Voice Awards on Aug. 22 for their work helping others overcome mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction.


Chamique Holdsclaw

The Voice Awards, which were held at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, recognize consumer/peer leaders and the entertainment industry for increasing public understanding and acceptance of people with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) holds the event with its partners, including the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and the American Psychological Association.

This year’s Voice Awards put a special emphasis on athletes who are overcoming mental health or substance abuse issues and are involved in community programs that help others. Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder; World Peace struggled with alcoholism and anger issues; and Herren is a recovering heroin addict.


Metta World Peace greets Voice Award attendee.

“For years suicide was looking like the best option,” Herren said, describing how he felt when he was in the depths of drug addiction. Herren has now launched his own foundation to provide resources to people who cannot afford addiction treatment.

The awards went to more than athletes. New Jersey social worker Henry Acosta, MSW, LSW, who struggled with depression, was recognized for his work providing mental health services to the Latino community.

Acosta is executive director of the National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health. Acosta said television shows and movies should show more of the positive contributions made to society by people with mental health and addiction issues.

He said his ideal television show would feature a superhero family like the Incredibles where each person is battling a mental health or substance abuse issue but still managing to save the world from evil villains.

Chris Herren. Photo court.esy of

Other Voice Award recipients included episodes of Fox Television’s “Glee” and Showtime’s “Homeland” and Shonda Rhimes, creator, executive producer and head writer of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal.”

NASW Senior Public Relations Specialist Greg Wright represented the association at the event.

NASW guests were social worker and author Sherry Gaba, who provided behind-the-scenes counseling on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”; Los Angeles social worker and life coach Brigitte Khani, MSW; and filmmakers Harry Gantz and Devon Terrill.

Gantz and Terrill are working to complete the documentary “American Winter.” That film looks at the plight of Portland, Ore., residents struggling economically in the wake of the Great Recession.

Filmmakers Harry Gantz and Devon Terrill of “American Winter.”

The documentary includes footage of social workers who operate 211 call lines that help the needy get a variety of services, including groceries from food banks, help paying utilities and emergency shelter.

Social worker Paolo Del Vecchio, MSW, who is director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services and one of the hosts of the program, said he hopes the Voice Awards will spur more movies and television shows to portray substance abuse and mental health issues in a more accurate and compassionate way.

It is also important to show that people can live fulfilling lives, despite battling these problems.

“Most importantly, people recover,” Del Vecchio said as the audience applauded.

To learn more about how social workers help consumers with behavioral health and substance abuse and addiction issues visit NASW’s “Help Starts Here” Mind & Spirit Web page by clicking here .

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