National Alliance on Mental Illness
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(800) 950-NAMI;

StigmaBusting Network
and Alerts


February 2003

Contact Information:

Ms. Stella March

NAMI StigmaBusters, dedicated advocates across the country and around the world, are fighting pervasive, hurtful prejudice and discrimination that exists toward people with mental illnesses-while commending leaders who communicate accurate messages to the public about mental illness.

Stigma discourages people from getting help when they need it. It dehumanizes individuals. It contributes to lack of investment in the mental healthcare system, with catastrophic costs and consequences.

The time to act is now. NAMI StigmaBusters currently number almost 10,000. Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard!


  1. Saturday Night Live—Help Phil Fight Back!
  2. Super Bowl Stigma
  3. Comic Strip Protest
  4. Kudos to American Dental Association
  5. Out of Our Inbox

Saturday Night Live—Help Phil Fight Back!

NAMI advocate Phil Kirshner, who in December completed a news internship with NBC’s Channel 4 in New York City, has taken the lead to file a formal complaint with the City’s Human Rights Commission over the outrageous January 9, 2003 Saturday Night Live (SNL) opening skit that used mental illness and references to psychiatric medications to lampoon, vilify, and dehumanize North Korea dictator Kim Jong Il . A transcript of the skit is at

"Political lampooning is one thing, but medicalizing it with psychiatric terms is over the line," Phil said. "With all this negative stereotyping, what chance do I have [as a consumer] of getting hired as an assignment desk editor or associate producer?
Each piece, whether on SNL or a news organization, is one step backward for all of us."

Phil urgently needs your help. He will meet with Commission investigators on Thursday, February 20. BEFORE THEN, he needs to receive letters or emails of support or emails from:

  • People who saw the skit when it was broadcast, with an account of how it impacted them: their thoughts and emotions at the time. Accounts from New York City residents will be especially helpful, but letters from other cities and states also are important.
  • Anyone who works for General Electric, Inc., NBC, or an NBC affiliate station who shares concern that production and broadcast of such skits may reflect a hostile workplace environment, prejudice and discrimination, or general insensitivity toward people with mental illnesses. If you also know about other incidents within the corporate network that might help to demonstrate a pattern of stigma, please provide details.

Send letters of support ASAP to:
Philip B. Kirschner
1420 Freeport Loop, Apt. 2H
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11239

Super Bowl Stigma

When the Oakland Raiders lost the Super Bowl in San Diego on January 26th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21, members of the team understandably frustrated. But many lashed out at Barrett Robbins, the starting center, as their scapegoat, because he had showed up "incoherent" the night before the game and had to be benched by coach Bill Callahan.

Raiders guard Mo Collins said he hoped Robbins wouldn’t "bother coming out of the rock he’s crawled under." Guard Frank Middleton declared: "We are a family and you don’t do that to family…He went to the enemy. If Barrett Robbins comes back [next season], I won’t."

Unfortunately, the story isn’t as simple as a football player who went on a bender in Tijuana.

Barrett Robbins has bipolar disorder. In 1997, he acknowledged in an interview that even with medication, managing his condition was difficult. "It’s a battle within your head," he said. "It’s not an easy thing to deal with. Anybody who can overcome something like this is bound to be a better person in all aspects of life."

With Robbins hospitalized, there was a backlash against the Raiders’ insensitivity, with ESPN and many sportswriters for the first time educating fans about mental illness and why consumers sometimes stop taking medication.

NAMI agrees with Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan that "Barrett Robbins is a hero." An eight-year veteran, Robbins was headed into the Super Bowl after his finest pro season, anchoring the Raiders top-ranked offensive line that allowed MVP quarterback Rich Gannon to pass for 4,689 yards.

"Far from being weak," Ryan wrote "Robbins is uncommonly strong. He has been battling something for many years, and yet he has played well enough to make himself a Pro Bowl center." He also quoted a comment from one consumer: "The thought of playing anything, much less a Super Bowl, while depressed is akin to asking someone with no legs to run a marathon."

Perhaps even more damning for the Raiders is the fact that apparently no one in team management sought to help when Robbins exhibited signs of distress in the days leading up to the big game. The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service has reported:

"All week long people close to Barrett Robbins observed him sinking deeper into a funk." During a media event the Thursday before the game, "his hands shook, his knees banged against the table legs, and his answers were reduced mostly to a catatonic ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’"

Declared Ryan: "It would be nice to think that as we ease our way into the 21st century, a professional sports organization would be sufficiently educated to treat one of its prime employees with the requisite compassion when the matter is as profoundly serious as clinical depression."

Please contact the Oakland Raiders and the National Football League (NFL) with the following messages:

  • Barrett Robbins’ struggle with bipolar disorder, while playing football during the past eight years, is a profile in courage. He is a hero. He deserves the team’s continued support and help toward recovery.
  • No person should be disqualified from playing professional sports simply because of mental illness. As a society, we know how to treat and manage disorders. All NFL teams should have state-of-the-art programs to support players and other employees that might need them.
  • NFL teams should institute a program for all players and employees to educate them about mental illnesses, symptoms, warning signs, treatment options, and how to help someone who may seem in distress.
  • NFL teams—particularly the Raiders—should help to sponsor antistigma campaigns in their communities.

Al Davis, Owner
Oakland Raiders
1220 Harbor Bay Parkway
Alameda, CA 94502
510-864-5134 (fax)

Paul Tagliabue
NFL Commissioner
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
212-681-7599 (fax)

Comic Strip Protest

The "Pirhana Club" by Bud Grace, syndicated by King Features, presented the following storyline in January:

Comic character Bo Grace did not really go to the Oahu Club Med for his annual vacation. Instead, he went to the Nuttycrest Lunatic Asylum for an "annual tune up." An attendant led him in a straitjacket to a room with a sign saying "Lunatic Ward."

"Does my room have an ocean view?" he asked. Opening the door to a padded cell, the attendant replied, "Sorry all we have left is inside rooms." Bo then observed: "At least the walls are nice and bouncy."

Features Syndicate and newspapers that carry the comic strip have editors who read the strips prior to publication . Please send messages to educate creator Bud Grace and the editors. Key points include:

  • Inaccurate, demeaning stereotypes and language perpetuate prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illnesses.
  • Unfair stigma discourages people from getting help when they need it. The comic storyline was more than insensitive. It was irresponsible.
  • "Nutty" and "lunatic" are dehumanizing words. To compare a person with a mental illness who needs to go to a hospital to an automobile needing a "tune-up" is extremely offensive. Would they publish a comic strip that ever tried to make a joke about a cancer patient going into a hospital for chemotherapy?
  • Straitjackets are not funny. They represent a cruel, offensive, painful image. They are rarely used—usually when a patient is suffering horribly from a psychotic episode.

Send your comments to
Bud Grace
c/o King Features Syndicate
888 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10019
212-455-4300 (fax) (Mark the subject Attn: Bud Grace).

Send copies also to:
Editor of "Pirhana Club" (same address)
Editors of your local newspapers that carry the cartoon.

Kudos to American Dental Association

In September and December 2002, The Journal of the American Dental Association published articles on "Providing Dental Care for Special Patients," including individuals with major depression and bipolar disorder as requiring consideration beyond routine approaches.

Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population have some type of disability. The articles discussed techniques such as establishing a relaxing treatment environment and oral hygiene practices in residential care facilities. Most importantly, they emphasized that practitioners who treat patients with disabilities do not need special equipment so much as "compassion and tolerance."

Educating primary care practitioners and other professionals is an important part of the campaign to eliminate stigma. Please send messages of appreciation for the articles to:

Marjorie Jeffcoat, DDS
Editor, JADA
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Ill. 606ll
Fax: 312-440-3538

Out of Our Inbox

Thanks for sharing messages you send and receive from our monthly targets. Even if you don’t receive a response, you still are helping to educate people who will create future stories, ads, or portrayals. They will remember your comments, especially those that come from the heart.

New TV sitcom episodes are introduced during the "sweeps months" of February, May, and October. It is important to watch for patterns of offensive language or portrayals and to protest them immediately after they air. Offensive episodes may pop up again in syndication on other networks or cable television. It is much harder, if not impossible, to remove an episode once a show is syndicated.

Please continue to watch, listen and report! Your efforts do make a difference.

Stella March, National Coordinator
NAMI StigmaBusters

With more than 220,000 members and 1200 state and local affiliates, NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with severe mental illnesses. Funding sources for NAMI programs include hundreds of state and local governments and foundations; ten of thousands of individual donors; and a growing number of corporations. NAMI's greatest asset, however, is its volunteers-who donate an estimated $135 million worth of their time each year to education, support and advocacy. NAMI does not endorse any specific medication or treatment.

NAMI StigmaBuster Alerts are electronic newsletters provided free of charge as a public service. Contributions to support our work can be made on-line at Give to NAMI! or via regular mail. Please make check payable to NAMI and send to P.O. Box 79972, Baltimore, MD 21279-0972) or donate through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC #0538).

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