January 31, 2008
In recent weeks, a media circus and reckless speculation has surrounded events in the life of pop singer Britney Spears and her family.
Professional ethics require that mental health professionals who have not examined or treated individuals not presume to diagnose them. A person’s treatment and recovery from any illness also is entitled to privacy—which in fact may be an important factor in recovery.
In the case of Britney Spears, professional ethics also are involved which the media must confront. Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of the Poynter Institute, a leading center of journalism training and ethics, recently wrote. “There is clearly a danger zone, when life and health are at stake, when the best thing the press can do is back off. That time for Spears is probably now."
At the same time, the case is an opportunity for public discussion about mental illness, which many ordinary Americans confront every year. NAMI believes it is important that such discussions in our homes, offices, schools, and stores, as well as in the media, be based on facts.
What is needed—for anyone—is understanding and support. We encourage everyone to focus not on Britney Spears, but on all the ordinary people in our own communities who deserve our attention.
Getting well can be a difficult process. It takes time. It may involve relapses.
Involuntary treatment may be necessary in some instances, but only as a last resort, and over time, a person’s insight often returns and treatment becomes voluntary.
There should be no stigma for a person being hospitalized or treated for mental illness, voluntary or otherwise. Treatment represents medical intervention for a life-threatening medical condition. Treatment also works.
Doctors and families often respond to other kinds of medical emergencies, such as brain seizures or diabetic shock. Being admitted to a hospital under any circumstance should never be a cause for stigma.
To guide public discussion, NAMI offers four particular fact sheets, as well as invitation to browse our Web site: www.nami.org.
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