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StigmaBusting Network
and Alerts


NAMI Campaign to End Discrimination
October 31, 2001
Vol. 1 No. 2

Contact Information:

Ms. Stella March

NAMI StigmaBusters, with its dedicated advocates across the country and around the world, 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 8,330. Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard.




  1. K-PAX

  1. K-PAX

    This newly released film is based on a sci-fi novel with the same title. NAMI's Director of Communications saw the film and reports as follows:

    • Excellent performances by Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. Overall, it was funny, sweet, engaging, dramatic, and complex.

    • Depiction of patients in psychiatric hospital included sense of dignity and humanity, even poignancy. Many were eccentric and the source of humor, but were not really the butt of jokes.

    • To some degree, there is an anti-psychiatry, anti-medication theme, but not a dominant one. It's often funny (or realistic) and most consumers and many doctors probably will relate to those tensions. Keep in mind that at the end, Bridges also successfully unlocks the mystery of Spacey's identity--or at least the human part of it. There is a message of hope, and the point that people can recover to return to productive lives.

    This film was #1 for box office receipts for its first weekend and will probably continue to do well with the popularity of Spacey and Bridges plus a well-done sci-fi film.


    We continue to receive many reports about news anchors and talk show hosts who still do not understand that mental illness is like any other medical disorder. They continue to make mental illness the butt of a joke.

    Stigmabusters have expressed outrage at Jay Leno's opening monologue comments on October 8th, about the man (reported to have a mental illness) on an airplane en route to Chicago, who pounded on the cockpit door. The man was not hallucinating or delusional. He was in the real world and concerned about terrorist threats to the Sears Tower. Jay Leno's, reaction: The Taliban has their "crazies," and we have ours.

    For this and his many previous insensitive references about mental illness, please send Jay Leno your own message:


    • Referring to mental illness as a joke or--in this case--as an insensitive put-down, trivializes both mental illness and the horrors of terrorism.

    • Such hurtful references have been part of Leno's opening monologue many times over the years.

    • Persons with a mental illness are not "crazies, nuts, wackos, or psychos." They have a medical condition that is diagnosable and treatable like any other disorder. Their disorders have medical names (i.e. schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, panic disorder).

    Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders that strike one in five persons. A person with a mental illness deserves the same respect and dignity accorded to persons with all other disorders such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, HIV, etc.

    Celebrities who have publicly disclosed their mental illness include Mike Wallace, Rod Steiger and William Styron with clinical depression; Carrie Fisher, Kay Jamison, and Maurice Benard with bipolar disorder. Would Leno refer to them as "crazies?"

    Please send your messages to: (Executive Producer, The Tonight Show) (NBC President)


    JC Penney and Goody's Department Store responded to our letters, with an apology and withdrew t-shirts that featured offensive messages. J.C. Penney's shirt read "MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES." Goody's were emblazoned with "You say PSYCHO like it's a bad thing" and another with "PSYCHO WARD 24-7-666."

    Maurice's Clothing Stores, whose t-shirt has the message "ESCAPED MENTAL PATIENT, STATE WARD" has not responded to our letter.

    Maurice's Clothing Stores are now part of the American Retail Group (ARG), which is owned by a "secretive family" in the Netherlands. ARG has not responded to the letter faxed to their office in Georgia.


    • T-shirts emblazoned with "ESCAPED MENTAL PATIENT, STATE WARD" are most hurtful to the one in five persons who are struggling with a mental illness and to their families.

    • U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, in his January 3, 2001 report, stated that 12% of American children under the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental illness. The T-shirt ads are targeted to these children.

    • Parents are working with teachers to educate youngsters that mental illnesses are like all other illnesses (i.e. diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.) that require treatment and care. However, because of the stigma reinforced by the language on T-shirts and fear of peer taunts, many adolescents do not seek treatment. Instead, many untreated adolescents with severe depression contribute to the escalating suicide rate.

    • No offense may have been intended, however the T-shirt carries a highly insensitive message. We want corrective action, not good intentions.

    Please send letters to the following address. Perhaps more letters will produce a response.

    Hans Brenninkmeyer, CEO
    Howard Jackson, CFO
    American Retail Group
    625 Crooked Creek Road
    Norcross, GA 30092


    StigmaBusters have sent messages to Target Stores and to Disguise Inc. to display outrage at the "Mental Patient" costume described in the October 16, 2001 Alert. Target Guest Relations responded with a form letter, apologizing for any offense, which was not intended. Messages also have been forwarded to Target Corporation officers and buyers. They claim they will remember our message and "watch for other merchandise that may carry similar offensive connotations." If you have seen the costume in other local outlets, you should educate the store managers.

    Disguise Inc., a division of an international group and the world's largest costume company, designed and produced this costume titled "Mental Patient" (subtitled "Member of the Ward"). It is a canvas straight jacket with straps and a frightening "Hannibal Lecter" style facemask.

    Benoit Pousset, president of Disguise Inc., stated that it was not their intention "to harm anyone in any way." Rather, their goal was "to increase the fun of Halloween, an increasingly popular holiday in the United States." "Please be assured that we will take your suggestions regarding our costumes under advisement," he said. Let's hope so. Let's also keep educating him.


    • The World Health Organization report of October 4, 2001 reported that one in four people in the world have a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives.

    • 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

    • Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.

    • STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION, and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.

    • The "Hannibal Lecter" vinyl facemask and straight jacket perpetuates fear of people with mental illness and unfair violent stereotypes.

    • Would the company consider a costume based on any other disorder like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, HIV, or diabetes? Persons with a mental illness deserve the same respect and dignity.

    Please send letters to:

    Mr. Benoit Pousset, President
    Disguise, Inc.
    Poway, CA 92064
    Phone: (858) 391-3600
    FAX: (858) 39l-3601


    Following our "How to Deal with Local Stigma" suggestions, and the model letter to Sit 'n Sleep in Los Angeles (previous Alert) we have received reports of successes from StigmaBusters in many states.

    The offensive radio ad by Sit 'n Sleep was pulled within the week following our letter. StigmaBusters in many other cities have reported similar success in getting pullbacks and apologies for insensitive ads in local media publications. One member received a personal apology from a radio talk show, addressed to her daughter who is struggling with mental illness.


    We are again including the "How to Deal With Local Stigma" fact sheet at the end of this Alert.


    Promotional ads for up-coming TV shows, or soon to be released films, may often be exaggerated to capture the public attention and audience.

    We can, and do, respond to ads which are insensitive to consumers and their families. However, in some cases the targeted TV episode or film may prove to be relatively harmless. For that reason, we do not necessarily send additional messages. For example, we sent messages about the Drew Carey final episode on May 23, 2001 which showed him in a straitjacket at the "nuthouse." Although advance promos on TV and in the TV Guide continued with the theme, that portrayal and language did not continue in the opening October episode.


"Overall approaches to stigma reduction involve programs of advocacy, public education, and contact with persons with mental illness through schools and other societal institutions..."
-- Report on Mental Illness by U.S.Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher


ACTION for STIGMA sighted in local newspaper/radio news reports, editorials or ads, billboards, or heard on TV news and talk show programs.

Affiliate members (with affiliate Presidents using their NAMI letterhead), professionals, providers and friends, need to contact by FAX, mail or phone:

Radio or TV station managers, newspaper publishers and editors, advertisers and sponsors. Sponsors do not want to lose their local customers. They are usually the first to change or withdraw their commercial. HOWEVER, DO WATCH FOR AND COMMEND ALL OF THE ABOVE FOR SUPPORTIVE ARTICLES, EDITORIALS, ETC.


Outreach to civic/business organizations and the clergy. Contact Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, the League of Women Voters, PTAs, Neighborhood Homeowners Associations, your own clergy person, etc. Speak to them about your own story and/or distribute fact sheets about the hurts and harms of stigma.

Inform your local and State elected officials; from City Council members and Supervisors, to Assembly persons, State Senators and the Governor about the true facts about brain disorders before they make decisions about legislation and regulations affecting persons with mental illness. They need to understand the myths and misconceptions that perpetuate prejudice and stigma which results in the unjust discrimination against persons with mental illness in housing, employment, and education. Educate them about the need for funding so that all persons with a severe mental illness have access to treatment that works. In order for recovery to happen, treatment services must be made available.

Ask your Board of Education to follow U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher's report dealing with the importance of educating children in the classroom about mental illnesses. Children need to understand they must report the symptoms of mental illness just as they would for any other illness. Stigma arising from classmates' taunts using names like "pscyho," or "weirdo" keeps kids from seeking treatment. The adolescent suicide rate is rising alarmingly among young people with untreated clinical depression.

Most importantly, and for many this is most difficult-families need to speak out, in conversations about the illness of their loved one. Be as open about mental illnesses as you would if it were any other illness or disorder of the body. Unfortunately, keeping this as a family secret contributes to the stigma.


"Stigmatization of people with mental disorders is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, and/or avoidance. Stigma leads the (public) to avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders. . .it reduces access to resources and opportunities e.g., housing, jobs and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking, and wanting to pay for care. Stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society"
-- Report on Mental Illness by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher


As always, we need your eyes and ears to keep our alert on its mark to reduce stigma wherever and whenever it appears. We also appreciate your awareness of positive language and portrayals in the media. Thank you for your strong support.

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!


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