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StigmaBusters Alert: October 2003


If only Halloween were limited to ghosts and goblins. Unfortunately, NAMI often receives reports of "mental patient" costumes; "haunted house" attractions with insane asylum themes; or variations that include characters wearing straitjackets.

At the local level, the most effective strategy is to complain directly to a store manager or the owner or sponsor of a Halloween attraction –especially if it involves a service club. Follow up with a letter or telephone call to the editor of the local newspaper or television news. NAMI StigmaBusters also wants to know about any national chain stores selling objectionable costumes or other merchandise-- as well as locations, names of manufacturers, etc. In the past, we have been successful in persuading some companies to discontinue or modify costumes and attractions.


In the movie "Matchstick Men," Nicholas Cage plays a master con artist who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Unfortunately, Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert, whose reviews are syndicated and televised on ABC-TV on Sunday evenings, in two instances referrs to Cage's character as a "nut case" and "a whacko."

Regardless of what you think of the movie or the review, please politely—and gently—remind Ebert that terms like "nut case" and "whacko" are offensive and dangerous to public health—according to the U.S Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health. Remind of the power that both movies and critics have immense power to shape (or warp) popular perceptions.


Roger Ebert, Film Critic
Chicago Sun-Times
401 North Wabash
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone: 312-321-3000
Fax: 312-321-3679

Comments also can be sent to Ebert as "The Answer Man" at


We have received some report recently about baseball or football anouncers in television broadcasts also using offensive terms such as "psycho" or "whacko." In order to follow-up on such complaints it’s important to include the television station and network, date and time, the opposing teams, and the name of the announcer—as well as what was said. Broadcast sports reach wide audience, and we will try to pursue the most egregious offenses.


It’s important to have a sense of humor, and sometimes it’s difficult to determine where humor ends and stigma begins. So, we’d like your opinion about, a commercial Web site that sells buttons and stickers, including ones under a Mental Health" subcategory listed under "Everything Funny." See Included among the slogans are "It’s such a beautiful day, I think I’ll skip my medications" and "Gone crazy,. back soon."

Does it make a difference that one of the slogans was worn by a NAMI consumer at the recent NAMI Idaho state conference? Or that the owner of is a consumer—who believes that there are other, more important issues for NAMI to pursue?

We invite your comments. Mental illness and humor. Is humor appropriate? Are there boundaries?

What about movies like "Me ,Myself and Irene?" What standards should Stigmabusters apply in selecting targets for protest? Many StigmaBusters sometimes have very different opinions.


Torn Ranch, Inc graciously responded to StigmaBuster protests by explaining that offensive language contained on packages of "Mashuga" cookies originated with another company, Mashuaga Nuts, Inc., the assets of which Torn Ranch had acquired. "We were remiss in not reading the backs of all the old packaging searching for language that could be offensive to someone," said the company president.

"Until now, there have been no complaints to make us aware of the issue. But there are, and now we are dealing with it." During 2003, only eleven cases of the cookies were shipped to Whole Foods stores in three states. Torn Ranch has promised they will not sell any more packages with the offensive language.

Torn Ranch’s good faith and responsiveness are to be commended. We encourage Stigmabusters to reciprocate with goodwill—perhaps by even ordering some of their products for holidays ahead.



Together, we can make a difference.

Stella March
StigmaBusters Coordinator

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; tens 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.

P lease forward this email if you know someone who might like to be added to our mailing list and join in speaking out against stigma. New subscribers to NAMIStigmaBusters Alerts may sign up at 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 or via regular mail. Please make checks 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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