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NAMI Stigmabusters: September 25, 2008

Halloween Horrors

Trick or treat. It’s that season again. We don’t mind ghosts and goblins, but in some communities "haunted house" attractions take the form of "insane asylums," featuring "mental patients" as murderous ghouls.

Violent stereotypes are inaccurate and offensive. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that they perpetuate stigma, resulting in discrimination and abuse, even though "the contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small."

Here’s one outrageous offender: the "Fright Night Scream Park," a commercial attraction in Clovis, California (near Fresno). Check it out. If you want, you can give the proprietors a piece of your mind at: or (559) 288-DARK

Fright Night Scream Park

Local service clubs or high schools may also be the sponsors of Halloween attractions, but don’t intend to offend. Other times it’s local advertising or retail costumes sold in stores (Unfortunately, straitjackets are popular). In speaking out for change, here are tactics to consider:

  • Contact sponsors, advertisers or sellers personally. Explain the meaning of stigma and the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General considers its elimination a public health priority. Educate them. Ask them to modify the attraction to remove offensive parts of an attraction.
  • Remind them that offensive portrayals of African Americans or cancer patients would never be tolerated. The issue isn't "political correctness." It's about human dignity and a public health crisis.
  • If dialogue fails, have NAMI members, family and friends phone, send letters, or e-mail the sponsor—as well as to any newspaper or radio station running a promotion. Letters from allies such as hospital directors or medical societies may especially have an impact.
  • Contact local newspaper editors and television news directors. Educate them about stigma and your concerns. Make the protest a "news event" and a "teaching moment." Offer consumers and family members for personal interviews.
  • Stigma sponsors may apologize but be unwilling or unable to change the attractions this year. If so, ask instead for a public statement or written promise to use a different theme in the future. Claim victory—even it is a small one. Education is incremental over time.
  • Build partnerships. If a stigma sponsor is a club, ask to make a presentation on mental illness at one of their meetings. Recruit clubs, companies and stores as sponsors of NAMIWalks or other events. Ask them to make amends by supporting public education in your community.

Register to Vote: Don’t Let Stigma Win

Deadlines for voter registration are fast approaching for the November elections. If you are not already, you can register to vote on-line today. Find out also about absentee ballots and other information.

Some states restrict the right to vote for individuals with psychiatric disabilities based on competence standards. Other times, misinformed election officials, poll workers or mental health service providers improperly impose their own notions of voter competence. It is important to know your rights. The NAMI voter registration page includes a discussion of them.

Out of the Inbox

Because of the large number of StigmaBuster emails received each month, not every one can be answered individually, however, we appreciate every message and do evaluate every stigma report, prioritizing them for action. We also appreciate receiving copies of responses. They are important in helping to coordinate strategy and pursue genuine dialogue. You are our eyes and ears! Your help makes a difference! Send reports of stigma to Stella March via email.

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