Ms. Stella March
NAMI StigmaBusters, advocates across the country and around the world, are dedicated to fighting the pervasive and hurtful prejudice and discrimination that exists toward persons with mental illness -- while commending TV, films and print media that communicate accurate messages to the public.
NAMI StigmaBusters now number almost 10,000. Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard!
During Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), NAMI officially launched its new multi-front, multi-year "Campaign for the Mind of America." Building on the successes of the Campaign to End Discrimination (1995-2000), the campaign will seek not only to change public attitudes toward mental illness, but also greater investment in the nation's mental healthcare system-building new partnerships for recovery. Because stigma poses one of the greatest barriers to such investment, NAMI StigmaBusters will continue to play an important role in the overall campaign. For more information, see www.nami.org/pressroom/20021007.html.
Since early October, an unknown sniper has terrorized the Greater Washington, D.C. region, killing 10 persons. Anxiety and depression, which had begun to dissipate with the passing of a year's anniversary since September 11, 2001, have returned with a vengeance. Those persons affected the worst have included individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses. Many in the news media, however, have been quick to speculate about a link between the sniper and mental illness. NAMI needs your help in responding to the irresponsible rush to judgment-based on inaccurate information, sensationalism, lack of balanced reporting, and stereotypical thinking.
New York Times
We expect much higher standards from the NY Times, which in the past has won Outstanding Media Awards from NAMI. On October 12, in a largely speculative article entitled "Sniper Appears to Want to Create Fear, Not Pain," national correspondent Fox Butterfield cited New York University psychiatry professor Dorothy Otnow Lewis for a theory that the sniper may be suffering from bipolar disorder. Dr. Lewis "suggested," Butterfield reported (in his words), was in a manic frenzy, working, plotting and shooting with an enormous burst of energy, probably with little or no sleep. People suffering from manic depression can go through extreme energy and sleeplessness in which they can be highly creative or extremely paranoid.
Butterfield failed to cite a single expert (and there are many) who might have countered the rather extreme, exceptional theory; failed to explain the difference between a person who suffers psychotic episodes and a sociopath, and most tellingly, failed to interview anyone who actually has bipolar disorder for comment-many of whom live in the Washington area, also are concerned for the safety of their families, and equally want to see the sniper stopped.
Everyone has a bad day occasionally, but let's remind the NY Times that it can do much better. Contact Executive Editor Howell Raines at email@example.com and Fox Butterfield at firstname.lastname@example.org; 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036-3959; telephone 212-556-1234; 212-556-3815 (fax).
CBS's 60 Minutes
The worst offender by far was CBS's 60 Minutes, which on October 13 used the sniper attacks to lead-in to a segment about proposed legislation, S.2826, to encourage states and local governments to report people with mental illnesses who are involuntarily committed to the FBI to be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NCIC) system for gun purchases (See http://www.nami.org/schumer.html). In an outrageous breach of professional ethics, the segment illustrated the need for such legislation by referring to two cases-including that of John Hinckley (who attempted to assassinate President Reagan in 1981) in which the individuals involved had never been previously committed -and therefore the proposed legislation would never even have applied (let alone made a difference).
The segment ignored the fact that there is no current evidence that the DC sniper has a mental illness (He or she may be a terrorist or a sociopath. The most recent update also is that the sniper is demanding a ransom of $10 million). Under current trends in the law, many people are involuntarily committed for reasons that have nothing to do with a potential for violence; people recover; and most importantly, that the best predictor of future violence is past violence-regardless of mental illness. The segment completely ignored alternative measures such as requiring the reporting of all domestic violence cases or restraining orders.
Please send a message demanding that 60 Minutes clean up its act. Email comments to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone the show's viewer comment line at 212-975-3247; and/or write Don Hewitt, Producer, 60 Minutes, CBS News, 524 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Please also contact U.S. Senators to oppose S.2826 through 1-800-839-5276 and www.congress.org.
Carroll County TimesIn an October 20 column, "A Psycho is Just a Psycho," Jim Lee, editor of the Carroll County Times in Westminster, MD, argued that "sniper" is too noble a word for someone who is "just another crazy person." Ironically, in defending the honor of Army and police snipers, he wrote:
"Words spark images in people's minds. They also spark emotions. People can use words that are hurtful to get at someone they are displeased with, or they can use softer, more pleasant words to empathize with others."Perhaps Lee can be excused for confusing the common slang term for a person with a mental illness who suffers from psychotic episodes with the much different "sociopath" label applied to serial killers. But he needs to be educated about the distinction, the biological nature of mental illnesses, and the unfair stigma that such loose, insensitive commentary perpetuates. Let him also know that there many people with mental illnesses who worry about the safety of their families and equally consider the sniper's acts to be despicable. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 410-857-7878.
Last year, NAMI protests succeeded in getting one of the world's largest costume makers, Disguise, Inc. to drop a "Mental Patient" character. However, the company did so only by changing the name: to "Straight Jacket." They have since been completely insensitive to the negative connection that still exists, and the real human suffering that the image of a straitjacket represents.
A Disguise spokesperson has claimed that NAMI is trying to "censor" its product, but that's not the case. Instead, we're exercising our freedom of speech; condemning the company's gross insensitivity and lack of social responsibility; and trying to appeal to their individual and corporate consciences. During August-September 2002, we succeed in persuading several department store chains not to carry the costume. But your help is needed too.
Mr. Benoit Pousset, President
11906 Tech Center Ct.
Poway, CA 92064
Phone: (858) 391-3600
FAX: (858) 39l-3601
Another offender (or accomplice) is Spencer Gifts, large retail outlet for Disguise costumes as well as t-shirts or gadgets with discriminatory messages. It has characterized the "Straight Jacket" a teen costume and features a "Psycho Rodeo Clown" in their Web site sales catalogue. A company representative responded to initial NAMI concerns:
"Naturally not all our products are for everyone. We are a company that has through merchandise illustrated who and what we are as a society for 50 years. At times, I agree, it can hit a nerve with some people. Our merchandise often causes disagreement among people with different tastes and views, but that is a natural, healthy, not a bad thing and a key part of why our customers enjoy our stores. What we don't do with our merchandise is attempt to impose any particular view or agenda. Spencer Gifts is a store about fun. What we do, and will continue to do, is poke fun at life situations wherever and wherever we find them. Please don't read anything more than that into what you see in our stores."
NAMI needs you to help send a strong response!
Let Spencer Gifts know that mental illnesses are not about poking fun at life-no more than cancer, heart attacks or Parkinson's Disease. They are no laughing matter. In many instances, they are a matter of life and death, particularly at a time when suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Is that what is meant by a "teen" costume?
Is Spencer Gifts really trying to become known as a merchant of death?
Please mail, fax or email:
Mr. John B. Ridgeway
Divisional Vice President, Marketing
6826 Black Horse Pike
Egg Harbor Twp., NJ 08234-4197
Email: Visit www.spencergift.com and click on "contact us"
Netherworld Haunted House
Here's one of the worst examples in the nation: the "Inner Sanctum," one of two commercial haunted house attractions located in Norcross, Georgia, outside Atlanta. Check out the Web site at www.fearworld.com/is.htm. What's worse, Pepsi and Subway are among its sponsors. (Of course, Coca-Cola and the Carter Center on Mental Health are both headquartered in Atlanta. Is this Pepsi's idea of some kind of revenge or cruel joke?). The "Inner Sanctum" is billed as "dedicated to aggressively treating the most severe forms of mental illness" in a research facility located near the site of "several unexplained gruesome murders." From the Web site page, also click on the pictures of each "inmate" for more text.
Want to really help protest this one?
Call the Netherworld's "Haunted Hotline" at 404-608-2484 every day between now and Halloween. Choose Option 5 and leave a polite, but firm message of protest. If necessary, read them sections about stigma from the Surgeon's General Report on Mental Health (www.surgeongeneral.gov). If you choose Option 4, you'll hear another description of the Inner Sanctum.
Also send strong letters of protest to Pepsi and Subway. Tell them to act responsibly and undo the damage that they have done by sponsoring sustained, targeted antistigma campaigns.
Ms. Dawn Hudson, President
Pepsi-Cola North America
700 Anderson Road
Purchase, NY 10577
Mr. Frederick DeLuca, President
Subway World Headquarters
325 Bic Drive
Milford, CT 06460
A correction and update of this item will appear in the next StigmaBuster Alert. NAMI apologizes for any confusion or misinformation that resulted from reliance on on a Multiplayer Online Games Directory (www.mpogd.com) review of Lunatix, rather than the game's actual Website.
Kraft Foods recently aired a TV commercial, in which the scene was a room, focusing on a table holding a tray full of burgers, but with an empty jar of Miracle Whip. Then the room changed: into a padded cell. In response to NAMI's concerns, the commercial has been withdrawn. Of course, it's still hard to believe that someone actually was paid to script it in the first place.
Call for a free antistigma poster from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center from Mental Health Services (CMHS): 1-800-789-2647. (Only one per caller). See also www.mentalhealth.org. The poster bears the following message:
Know me as a person not by my mental illness
We are your friends, neighbors, and family.
We improve and recover.
We are major contributors to American life.
We deserve dignity and respect.
Many thanks to Chet Watson, president of NAMI California, co-chair of NAMI Faithnet, and chair of CA StigmaBusters, and his wife, Doris, who passed the word about it along.
Congratulations to Terry Russell, executive director of NAMI Ohio, and NAMI's Clackamas County affiliate, based in Oregon City, OR. They recently were honored with the first and second place 2002 Lilly Reintegration Awards for Advocacy--which recognize outstanding community relations, policy and public education efforts that support reintegration of individuals with mental illnesses into the community.
Russell was recognized specifically for becoming Ohio's leading advocate, reaching out to policymakers and legislators about the need for increased state funding to improve mental health services and support programs for consumers and their families. NAMI Clackamas County was honored for two vital, groundbreaking programs, "In a Different Light" and "In Our Own Voice," that provides consumers with confidence, renewed self-esteem, and a mission, as part of their recovery.
Stella March, Coordinator
NAMI StigmaBusters Email Alert