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StigmaBusting Network and Alerts

NAMI CAMPAIGN STIGMA BUSTERS EMAIL ALERT Update

NAMI Campaign to End Discrimination
June 2001

Contact Information:

Ms. Stella March

smarch@nami.org


SPECIAL REPORT

The following New York Times column merits an immediate response from NAMI StigmaBusters:


New York Times--June 10, 2001
"LIBERTIES" COLUMN

By MAUREEN DOWD: She's Not Really Ill . . .

Sure, it's a little inflammatory to claim that most women are nuts and on drugs and that the drugs are clearly not working. But I have some evidence to back it up.

WASHINGTON: I usually avoid sweeping generalizations. Lately, however, I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that all women have gone crazy. O.K., maybe not all. but certainly most. Sure, it's a little inflammatory to claim that most women are nuts and on drugs and that the drugs are clearly not working. But I have some anecdotal evidence to back it up.

First of all, I noticed that a lot of women I know are wacko-bango.

Then a doctor pal confided that she's surprised at how many of her female patients act loony even though they're on mood-smoothing pills sometimes multiple meds.

Then another friend who took a bunch of high school seniors on a spring vacation mentioned that all the girls were on anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs, some to get an extra edge as they aimed for Ivy League colleges. (Let's not even start on the kiddie hordes on Ritalin.)

And finally, another friend told me she goes to a compounding pharmacy in L.A. where she gets testosterone to jump her libido, or sensurround, a cocktail with ingredients like estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, pregnenelone and tryptophan.

The sequel to "Valley of the Dolls" is being published later this month. Jacqueline Susann, it turned out, was Cassandra in Pucci.

It isn't only neurotic Hollywood beauties any more. Now America is the Valley of the Dolls.

In Ms. Susann's 1966 book, the women had to go to third-rate hotels on New York's West Side to medical offices with dirty windows and sweet- talk doctors into giving them little red, yellow or blue dolls. Now doctors and pharmaceutical companies sweet-talk patients into feel-good pills.

When I mentioned to a doctor a while ago that I was not in a serious relationship, he asked brightly, "Would you like antidepressants?"

Young professional women in Washington tell girlfriends in a tizzy: "Take a Paxil."

It isn't just women, of course. A young guy I know went in for a check- up last week and told his internist he was on edge because he's getting married and moving out of the country for a big new job.

The doctor proposed an antidepressant called Serzone. My friend refused, pointing out that you're supposed to be nervous before you get married and start a new job.

Doctors now want to medicate you for living your life.

"We're treating a level of depression that would not have been considered a serious illness in the past," says Peter Kramer, who wrote "Listening to Prozac." Now we're listening to ads touting "Prozac Weekly."

Women have always popped mood- altering pills more than men. Studies show that women in most cultures have twice the rates of depression that men do. And now they feel entitled to speak up about their suffering.

A top psychiatrist told me women take more dolls because they're "hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Depression is the downside of attachment, and women are programmed to attach more strongly and punished more when they lose attachments."

There's an antidepressant for women who compulsively shop called Celexa. The Washington Post reported recently that Eli Lilly repackaged Prozac as the angelic Sarafem, in a pink and lavender capsule, and launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, with a woman irritably yanking a grocery cart, suffering from a new malady ominously called PMDD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, an uber-PMS psychiatrists say may not be real.

Sales soared for "Prozac in drag," as Dr. Kramer calls it, adding: "The liltingly soft name Sarafem sounds like Esperanto for a beleaguered husband's fantasy a serene wife."

He finds it ironic that Prozac, the drug that was supposed to help career women assert themselves, has morphed into Sarafem, a mother's little helper to soothe anxious housewives, as Miltown and Valium did in the Stepford wife era.

"Cooking fresh food for a husband's just a drag, so she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak," the Rolling Stones sang in 1966.

So women began taking mood dolls because they felt bored and dissatisfied, home with the kids.

And now that women can have a family and a career, they need mood dolls to give them the confidence and energy to juggle all that stress


MESSAGE POINTS

After stating that she "usually avoids sweeping generalizations," columnist Maureen Dowd comes to the "unavoidable conclusion that all women have gone crazy" and uses "anecdotal evidence" to back it up. She also states that a lot of women she knows are "nuts," "wacko-bango" and "loony."

  • First of all, would the New York Times even have allowed a columnist to publish comparable slurs against any racial, ethnic, or other minority group? The column's language alone reflects the kind of ignorance and prejudice that perpetuates stigma. The U.S. Surgeon General has called on the media to help eliminate in order to encourage treatment of mental illness. Both the newspaper and the columnist should apologize.
  • The column is a cruel insult to any person who struggles daily with severe mental disorders that are just as devastating as disorders of the body such as diabetes or cancer.
  • On the merits, how many women does Ms. Dowd know about as evidence for her conclusion? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?
  • She mentions "one friend" and a "bunch of high school seniors" to claim that "all the girls" are on anti anxiety and anti- depression medication. How many girls in how big a group really are taking such medicine? And how does the number compare to the total population of girls that age?
  • Throughout the column, Ms. Dowd generalizes, based on isolated, one-person anecdotes, such as the one involving a flippant, thoughtless reply of one doctor.
  • "Young professional women in Washington telling girl friends in a tizzy to take a Paxil," she claims. "But how many young professional women? How many girl friends actually are involved?
  • Using "one," "some," or "a bunch" does not provide the basis for a legitimate conclusion. What is shocking is that Ms. Dowd's column basically reflect journalistic quackery-almost the equivalent of practicing medicine without a license.
  • The column totally ignored the very real statistics that exist about women and mental illnesses, particularly mood disorders. Higher incidences are the result of biological and psychosocial factors between men and women.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression. One in seven women experience at least one severe episode during their lifetimes. Ten to fifteen percent of women experience serious depression during pregnancy or within three months of delivery.
  • Women experience longer depressive episodes and report more atypical symptoms, such as anxiety.
  • Three times as many women as men experience "rapid-cycling" as part of bipolar disorder (manic-depression).
  • The onset of schizophrenia occurs in women at older ages, emerging first through more pronounced mood disorders.
  • Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. Men are four times more likely to "succeed" in killing themselves, but the ratio of attempts to deaths is 16 to 1. By not taking mood disorders in women seriously, Ms. Dowd is disparaging the kind of interventions that can make the difference between life and death.
  • Doctors should not prescribe psychiatric medicines without adequate evaluations and diagnoses of patients. But sweeping generalizations about the questionable use of medication trivializes the struggle of everyone with a severe mental illness whose treatment requires medication.
  • Stigma often discourages people from getting help when they need it. Ms. Dowd's language was not only offensive and cruel-it was irresponsible, contributing to a public health crisis, particularly where suicide is concerned.

ACTIONS NEEDED:

Please send an email letter to the editor to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com stating the points you feel most strongly about. Letters to the editor must be no more than 150 words and should include your name, a daytime telephone number, and the city and town where you live.

Copies of letters to the editor (or longer messages) can be sent to Ms. Dowd and the Editorial/Opinion page editor at mdowd@nytimes.com and semple@nytimes.com.

Ms. Dowd's column also is regularly syndicated to other newspapers throughout the country. If this version appears in your local paper, please submit a letter to the editor locally to counter its effects.

Stella March, Coordinator
NAMI StigmaBusters Email Alert


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