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

StigmaBusting Network and Alerts


NAMI Campaign to End Discrimination
August 2001

Contact Information:

Ms. Stella March

NAMI StigmaBusters, with its dedicated advocates across the country, are successfully fighting the pervasive and hurtful stigma that exists toward persons with mental illness -and- also commending print media, TV and films that send accurate messages to the public.

NAMI StigmaBusters now number 7,500. Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard.




  6. DEAR ABBY AUGUST 2, 2001

    Late Breaking News... ROSIE MAGAZINE (September 2001) ROSIE DISCLOSES HER DEPRESSION

    The current issue of ROSIE features a special focus on faces of depression highlighting Rosie's disclosure of her own struggle with the illness, which reached a crisis point at age 37. Psychologist Martha Manning, author of Undercurrents, also described her battle with depression. Manning also wrote four additional articles for the issue: "Home At Last," which profiles actress Rosemary Clooney and the depression that almost killed her; "Strong Woman Blues," about Nana-Ama Danquah, author of Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression; and "A FamilyMatter," about Mary Wallace, wife of CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, and the impact that depression has on family relationships.

    Kate Depenrock, Martha Manning's daughter, who encountered depression during her sophomore year of college, also contributed an article to the issue titled, "Breaking Free." Although not as intense as the depression experienced by her mother at a later stage of life, Kate's reflections underscore the importance that personal testimony can play in breaking down the stigma of mental illness and helping people get early, effective treatment. "The longer mood disorders go untreated, the worse they become and the more difficult they are to treat. One reason I might not get as ill as [my mother] did is because of the hard-won knowledge she gained through her own depression. Do I think I will ever get depressed like my mom? I can't respond with a forthright no, but I hope I won't. And if I do, my mother will help me. She's been there, and she knows the way back."

    General consensus has been that this Convention was the BEST EVER -- with some 2,500 participants representing the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and 25 other foreign countries from South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

    We appreciated meeting and speaking with our StigmaBusters members who proudly wore their yellow ribbons. More than 200 attended the StigmaBusters Workshop, which focused on the effects of stigma on the consumer and how this problem is being handled at home and abroad. One of the StigmaBusters who attended sent us his report on the Workshop published in McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly. In part, he wrote:

    "In May, 1997, a consumer found herself screaming for help on a sidewalk in LA in the middle of the night. This was her initiation into the terrifying world of bipolar, but it was the stigma, she contends, that did more harm than the illness. Soon after, her good friend of six years sent her a letter saying she could no longer be her friend, and not to call. Then her boyfriend, a doctor, disappeared.

    The misfortunes continued to pile on: Her business partner took advantage of her five-day hospital stay to take over her company. The stresses culminated in a suicide attempt two years later. Her next boyfriend flew the coop, and his mother accused her of stalking. Meanwhile, the people who should have been helping her only wound up making her feel like an outcast. A senior company vice president recommended she not share the details of her bipolar with anyone. Her psychiatrist bailed on her. Her rabbi said, "Don't tell anyone you are bipolar - you will never get married."

    "Stigma has made me scared, isolated, and traumatized," Annabelle told the workshop at the NAMI Conference. "A chemical imbalance became a stigma practiced by educated, intelligent people."

    Panelist Otto Wahl, Ph.D. of George Mason University described how media stigma impedes recovery and how stigma activates discrimination in barriers to seeking and finding decent housing, employment, and education. Instead of stigma, people should receive understanding and community support.

    Dr. Wahl also described how the mass media could help reduce stigma. "They are responsive to feedback. They are not malevolent, merely ignorant. They can tell stories in powerful and effective ways. The NY Times article on John Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics, is one example. The Billings Gazette coverage of mental health care in rural Montana is another."

    Panelist Barbara Hocking of SANE in Australia noted that while her country may be far away in terms of miles, it is not in terms of mass media. The same films, TV shows, promos, products and advertisements that originate in the United States - the media we target as perpetuators of stigma,-- take their same message to countries around the world. SANE operates much like StigmaBusters.

    Stella March, coordinator of StigmaBusters and workshop moderator, highlighted positive examples of the media, which lead to reducing stigma. Last year, NAMI awarded the TV series "Once and Again" for its excellent portrayal of a man with schizophrenia, and this year awarded "ER" for Sally Field's realistic portrayal of a person with bipolar disorder.

    Responding to many StigmaBusters, who requested help in dealing with local situations of stigma, we offer this new flyer, introduced and distributed at the Convention, for your use. It may be downloaded and distributed as needed.




    Our letter to Toshiba said:

    "We have received numerous reports from our members about the offensive and hurtful TV commercial set in a hospital mental ward, with a patient attempting to make photocopies in a cardboard box, using a slot to send out paper. This commercial perpetuates stigma that is so hurtful to a person struggling with a mental illness.

    I doubt you would have a commercial featuring an individual with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer, etc. Mental disorders, which afflict one in five persons, are as devastating as all other disorders of the body and need to be treated with the same sensitivity and respect.

    We hope you understand the concerns of our families and their loved ones with mental disorders, not only in our country, but around the world, who are offended by this message indicative of ignorance. We hope you will consider replacing it with a message that describes the great features of your copying machines without offending any group."


    "I received your FAX regarding our current television commercial featuring Toshiba's remote copying capability.

    The commercial in question has been airing for a number of weeks now and to date, from the millions of viewers who have seen the commercial, we have received almost no negative response. In fact, given the many organizations that deal with numerous issues association with mental illness, yours in the only organization we have heard from

    I can assure you that the intent of the commercial was not to offend any group or individual. In an effort to illustrate the benefits of the remote access capabilities of newer copier products, we choose to illustrate through exaggeration, the plight of someone who had spent too much time in front of the copier - a situation most working Americans find themselves in far too often.

    Until receiving you Fax, we had no idea of the sensitive nature of our commercial. However, based on your sharing the reaction of your members, we will certainly take your concerns into consideration in the creation of future Toshiba Copier advertising.

    We will give serious consideration to your input regarding our current commercial and continue to research reactions from you, as well as others, in an effort to produce future advertising that promotes the attributes of our products without creative negative stigma. In this regard, we appreciate having received the benefit of the input provided by your organization.

    Thank you for voicing your concerns. We wish NAMI ultimate success in its efforts to educate the public on the devastation of mental illness."

    StigmaBusters will watch and listen for future Toshiba commercials. Another international corporation with a huge advertising budget has been educated--- thanks to our ever alert StigmaBusters.

    The following letter was sent to the editor of The Washington Post to educate its film critic:

    To the Editor:

    Dessen Howe's movie review [Sweetheart: Julia Delivers A Yummy Treat, July 20, 2001] cheerfully quoted a line in America's Sweethearts which attempts to makes a joke out of mental illness. Asked about hotel accommodations for his entourage, Eddie (John Cusack) replies "I'm a paranoid schizophrenic. I am my own entourage."

    It is unfortunate that a movie critic should legitimize "this immortal line" at a time when the U.S. Surgeon General has called on the entertainment industry to join the fight against the stigma that surrounds mental illness. At the very least, Howe might have corrected Eddie's ignorance. What Eddie probably meant was that he had a multiple personality disorder, which is something very different from paranoid schizophrenia.

    Either way, it is inappropriate and irresponsible to trivialize severe mental illnesses for laughs. Mental illness is not funny. Sincerely,

    Rick Birkel
    Executive Director
    The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

    Note: We are sending a letter to the writers and producers of America's Sweethearts with information for their consideration when making references to a mental illness in future films.

    As noted in our May 2001 Alert, the production office and staff of The Drew Carey Show were on hiatus from mid May to mid July. We now need to send an alert about the offensive nature of The Drew Carey Show Season Finale on ABC, Wednesday May 23rd - an episode which showed him locked up in a mental institution, drugged and in a straitjacket.

    Please send a message to let the producers and Drew Carey know how you feel about this portrayal of mental illness and to request that they not repeat this dehumanizing episode in the future.


    • We understand this is a comedy show, and we have a sense of humor. However, the portrayal of a man going through the motions of a psychotic break, even if it's fictional is not a laughing matter. In real life, it is most devastating.
    • Straitjackets are no longer in use. Showing a person in a straitjacket today perpetuates a stereotype and illicits a hurtful memory from those who endured this kind of demeaning treatment in the past.
    • Today, as a rule, persons are not "drugged" to the extent shown. Currently, new medications allow people to live normally and work towards recovery. People seeking decent housing, employment, education require understanding and support from the community. Unfortunately, far too often they face ignorance and fear perpetuated by stigma.
    • As Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher recently said in Los Angeles, "Film and television shows depicting mental illness can help the public learn it is treatable and that suicide is preventable. In your shows, you have a greater ability to disseminate information and attitudes than we (mental health workers) do alone."

    ACTION: If you agree, please FAX your message to:
    Drew Carey

    Bruce Helfond, Executive Producer
    Holly Hester, Executive Producer
    Deborah Oppenheimer, Executive Producer
    The Drew Carey Show
    4000 Warner Boulevard, Bldg 19, lst Floor
    Burbank, CA 91522

    FAX Number: (818) 954-3979

    The Drew Carey Show airs Wednesday evening on ABC. Check your local TV schedule for time.

  6. DEAR ABBY: August 2, 200l
    In case you missed this excellent letter to Dear Abby in the newspapers on August 2nd, here it is in its entirety.


    DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, you asked readers who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia to write and describe their experiences with the mental health system for the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry. We received hundreds of candid, thoughtful and provocative letters, and while their treatment and reactions were diverse, many shared similar experiences. They described their struggle with a terrible and frightening illness and the importance of their own inner strengths, as well as support from mental health professionals, family, friends, religion and work. What was vital was feeling cared-for, respected and listened-to by a knowledgeable doctor (or other professional), who would stick with them over the long haul.

    Many readers complained that their care was hindered by insurance limitations, restrictive agency policies and insensitive or unskilled clinicians. There were many inspirational letters about lifesaving care, yet we physicians were appalled by how often treatment was perceived as impersonal, fragmented and dehumanizing. Without social, personal, residential and vocational supports, medications rarely helped. However, we were touched and impressed that so many of your readers were resourceful in overcoming the limitations of their illnesses.

    Stigma and prejudice from medical professionals, institutions and the general public were additional obstacles to recovery. Dozens of letters contained painful stories saying that being regarded as mentally ill slowed the person's progress. It is essential that people with mental illness be seen as capable human beings, who are much more than the illnesses with which they struggle.

    Reading the letters was enlightening. In response, we have written a report, "Now That We Are Listening," summarizing important issues in treating schizophrenia and providing excerpts of some of the letters. The report is free to your readers.

    Thank you for helping us and other psychiatrists to understand how our patients feel about their care. --


    And here is Abby's response:

    DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND DEAR READERS: A great many medical consumers would love the chance to air their feelings about how they have been treated by "the system."

    Thank YOU for allowing my readers to level with you. I had the opportunity to review many of the letters readers sent to assist your study. While it came as no surprise that patients were willing to tell me things they wouldn't ordinarily tell their doctors, I was struck by their frankness.

    Those interested in obtaining a copy of the booklet, "Now That We Are Listening," may do so by sending name and address to: McKassen, Attn: Maria Harryn, 800 Business Center Drive, Suite 100, Horsham, PA 19044. Be sure to include the title of the booklet with your request.

RESPONSES TO YOUR MESSAGES We returned from the Convention to find a few hundred emails on our computer. I have read each one and hope that information included in the Alerts does answer some of your questions.

I appreciate not only your messages appreciating our Alerts but also, the differences of opinions expressed by many participants. Our decisions about which situations to cover are based on the number of reports, the credibility of the company involved, and a discussion with NAMI staff members.

We agree with those who report about the outrageous language and graphics referring to mental illness on the Internet. A stigmatizing situation on a web site usually brings us just ONE report. When we receive numerous reports, we do investigate to find the web site's owner or person in charge of its pages. However, the Internet does not have any official oversight for the material used on web sites.

StigmaBusters is growing with participants from home and around the world. Countries in every continent receive our films, TV shows, products and commercials, including those that perpetuate stigma. So we appreciate those who join us in our two goals: to bust stigma and to commend those whose message to the public is honest and accurate.

Thanks for your continued support and for your reports of "stigma sightings." We are well on our way to making our mark - making our message known, understood and applied to all media - to eliminate discrimination and prejudice produced by stigma!

Stella March, Coordinator
NAMI StigmaBusters Email Alert

New! Receive stigma alerts via e-mail! Click here to learn how you can join NAMI's stigma alert list to receive regular stigma alerts.

We look forward to hearing from you!