Contact: Stella March, email@example.com
TIME magazine devoted its January 20, 2003 issue to "How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body," including articles on depression, schizophrenia, brain-imaging, and genetic research. Unfortunately, much of the excellent reporting was ruined by the flippant tone of an article entitled "How We Get Labeled," which served primarily to perpetuate stigma and trivialize the nature of mental illness.
The article characterized the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders as a catalogue of "all the ways America is nuts" and included sensationalized references to "transvestic fetishism" and a hypothetical diagnosis of HBO’s Tony Soprano’s panic attacks ("By the way, if you truly think you are Tony Soprano, see No. 295, schizophrenia," the article also noted.) Instead of a careful discussion of the limitations of the DSM, the article confused the process by which distinctions may be drawn between disorders and symptoms (e.g., "compulsive shopping" and "sexual addiction") and stated incorrectly that "DSM diagnoses can be used by courts to lock you in a mental hospital." (Legal standards for commitment do not depend on diagnosis, but on whether or not individuals poses a danger to themselves or others. The statement therefore assumes that persons with certain mental illnesses are violent).
Noting that the "DSM will always include more hypothesis than answers," it concluded: "Which means that all those guys fantasizing about tennis outfits are probably just weird, not certifiable." The article also noted: "A DSM label can become a stigma." However, the article completely ignored the fact that keeping consumers or family members in the dark about the nature of an illness may prevent empowerment—through understanding and management. The real problem lies not with attaching names to mental illnesses, but with attaching stigma to people who are diagnosed with them.
Please send a letter to the editors of TIME. In your own words, please express disappointment—or protest—the fact that stigma spoiled an otherwise educational issue on the Mind and Body.
Key points include:
Letters of approximately 150 words can be sent to:
Time & Life Building
New York, N.Y. 10020
firstname.lastname@example.org (Do not send attachments. Put the letter in the text of the message)
On January 11, 2003, NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL) featured cast members Horatio Sanz as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Maya Rudolf as a voice-over interpreter in an opening skit that many StigmaBusters considered extremely offensive and insensitive. It portrayed Kim Jong Il describing himself as suffering from acute pediatric schizophrenia, manic depression, delusions, obsessions, compulsions, and high and low moods. He also recited a list of his prescribed psychiatric medications.
People with mental illnesses do not deserve to be made the butt of derogatory, stereotyped jokes—particularly when a skit is lampooning foreign political leaders or potential enemies of the United States. In such cases, political satire is being used to demonize or dehumanize. Attributing mental illnesses to such figures uses the suffering of millions of Americans for political ends and unfairly perpetuates the stigma that already surrounds their illnesses.
Please send comments to:
Mark your message to Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and head writers Tina Fey and Dennis McNichols.
Please also contact:
NBC Television Network
30 Rockefeller Center
New York, NY 10012
New York State Division of Human Rights
20 Exchange Place, 2nd Floor
New York, N.Y. 10005
Phone: (212) 480-2522
On January 9, 2003, CBS aired an episode of "CSI" (Crime Scene Investigations) with a story line about bipolar disorder. A father sedated his adult daughter with Valium because she would not take her lithium regularly—and then cut her wrist to stage a suicide attempt so that he could have her committed for treatment. Interrupted in the process, he hid in the closet while she bled to death. As if that’s not bad enough, the episode was loaded with:
At the end, as the father was led away in handcuffs, one of the investigators declared that his grandmother had been right: "Crazy people will make even sane people act crazy."
Creator-Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Episode Producers/Writers: Ann Donahue and Anthony Zuicker
"CSI" Production Office
2535 Anza Drive, Stage 6
Santa Clarita, CA 9135
Short comments also can be posted on the CBS/CSI Website comment line: www.cbs.com/primetime/csi. Scroll down to the last line at the bottom of the page and click on Feedback.
President & CEO
51 West 52nd Street, Floor 35
New York, N.Y. 10019
We received complaints about December 2002 episodes involving the ABC soap opera's character, Luke Spencer, in the psychiatric unit. We contacted the Executive Producer and Head Writer and shared concerns about the lack of realism and aspects that only reinforced stigma. We emphasized that such incidents are inconsistent with outspoken antistigma messages of the show's star, Maurice Benard (Sonny), who in real life has bipolar disorder and has received NAMI's Aldridge Award for consumer, leadership, courage, and service. They will be sharing background information we provided with the rest of the show's writers.
NAMI’s national convention will be in Minneapolis, June 28-July 2, 2003. Each year NAMI presents outstanding media awards in dramatic entertainment categories for accurate, balanced, sensitive portrayals of mental illness. Past recipients have included movies like A Beautiful Mind, My Sister’s Keeper, and The Caveman’s Valentine and television shows like E.R. and Once and Again. We’re interested now in receiving comments about two potential candidates:
Responding to recent questions and comments:
We appreciate your patient, persistent, determined support!
Stella March, Coordinator
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! New subscribers to the NAMI StigmaBusters Alerts may sign up here.
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).