National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: January 23, 2008


Actor Joe Pantoliano recently was featured on the NBC Nightly News speaking about mental illness and the movie  CANVAS. The film will be released on DVD on January 29 and can be ordered directly from  ScreenMedia or through and other outlets. Organizations interested in holding public screenings should contact Alison Howard at ScreenMedia: A public screening fee of $700 includes 100 copies of the DVD that can be donated to local libraries to help provide public education about mental illness or used for fundraising activities.

Britney Spears

NAMI purposely has not spoken out about the Britney Spears ordeal in recent weeks, in part because we do not presume to diagnose anyone’s illness and try to respect a person’s privacy—even when it’s being violated by others.

We also have not wanted to feed the media circus.

Even Dr. Phil, who tried to exploit the story, has expressed regret for saying that the 26-year old singer was "in dire need of both medical and psychological attention."

"If I had to do it over again," he said, "I probably wouldn’t make any statement at all. Period."

Many StigmaBusters have been appalled by sensationalized media coverage of the story, particularly supermarket tabloids like The Star, which ran the headline "Britney’s insane; her spiral into madness." However, a few persons have praised PEOPLE magazine, which ran a cover story on "Britney’s Mental Illness," while providing a relatively balanced discussion about "likely bipolar disorder," that focused on symptoms and the need for treatment.

Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of the Poynter Institute, a leading center of journalism training and ethics, wrote in an on-line column: "One of the terrible side effects of America's celebrity and media culture is a pervasive cynicism about addiction and mental illness...We are all complicit….I'm no Puritan when it comes to gossip, and I've grown up reading the tabloids, but there is clearly a danger zone, when life and health are at stake, when the best thing the press can do is back off. That time for Spears is probably now."

"Avoiding the daily soap opera does not require journalists to abstain from critical and analytical pieces on celebrity, addiction, gender and mental illness," Clark continued.

"Perhaps the troubles of a particular celebrity might be an occasion to turn the camera away to the less intriguing but more important cases of mental illness in our own communities."

What You Can Do

  • Use the Britney Spears story as an opportunity to talk with friends, neighbors or co-workers about stigma, the nature of mental illnesses, and the fact that treatment works—if a person gets it.
  • Write letters to broadcasters or editors whose coverage you think is excessive, sensationalized or uses stigmatizing language.
  • Enclose a copy of Roy Peter Clark’s column—asking them to seek a higher ethical standard and to publish stories about mental illness in your own community.
  • If you see offensive language on the cover of a magazine in stores, tell the managers. Ask them politely to remove it—or at least pass the message on to the owners or regional managers.

You can comment on-line to BP Magazine about "Britney, bipolar and the media."  Send us your comments also. Has there been coverage by media sources that you believe was especially awful or especially responsible?