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General Motors Blasted For TV Suicide Commercial, Marginalization of Depression

Company Plans to Air It Again During Academy Awards

February 9, 2007

Washington, D.C. -- Anger in the mental health  and suicide prevention community has grown following a General Motors spokesperson’s statement this week that the company has received "more than a handful, but not a tsunami" of complaints over a Super Bowl ad that depicted a suicidal leap from a bridge -- and that the company intends to air the commercial again during the Academy Awards on February 25th.

"The GM commercial is recklessly irresponsible," said Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest organization that focuses on serious mental illnesses, including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

GM’s response has contrasted with that of Mars, Inc. which quickly pulled a Super Bowl advertisement for Snickers candy bars, following objections from the gay community. Fitzpatrick attributed the difference to the traditional marginalization of mental health concerns, rooted in stigma and discrimination.

"Suicide kills. Depression kills. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can kill," he declared. "But GM sees those kinds of concerns simply as a cute, advertising gimmick.  What does it say about the company’s concern for public health?"

In the ad, a robot who drops a bolt on the assembly line is fired because of GM’s "obsession" with quality. He is unable to hold another job and grows increasingly depressed. Eventually, he jumps off a bridge.

In a letter to GM on February 7, NAMI warned that concerns over depictions of suicide in mass media have been raised in the past by the U.S. Surgeon General, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institute of Mental Health -- as well as groups like NAMI -- because of the risk of  "suicide contagion," the clinical term for "copy cat" suicides.

In addition, suicide rates increase as unemployment rises. GM has engaged in major restructuring that has caused many employees to lose their jobs, NAMI noted in its letter. "The irony is unbelievably callous," making the ad "even more distasteful."


(Copy of NAMI letter to GM follows)

February 7, 2007

Mr. Richard Wagoner, Jr.
Chairman and CEO
General Motors
300 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265-3000

Dear Mr. Wagoner:

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, would like to express its dismay over the television advertisement for General Motors broadcast during Super Bowl XLI, depicting a fired factory robot committing suicide by jumping off a bridge.  With 1100 state and local affiliates nationwide, NAMI is the largest consumer and family organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with serious mental illness.

The Super Bowl commands the largest television audience annually - this year reaching 93.2 million viewers. Depictions of suicide in mass media are a significant concern that has been raised by the U.S. Surgeon General, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institute of Mental Health -- as well as organizations like NAMI.  Portrayals of suicide pose the very real danger of "suicide contagion," the clinical term for "copy cat" suicides. Research has found an increase in suicide by viewers when the story of an individual death by suicide or an explicit portrayal is placed in a broadcast.   

This advertisement was even more distasteful in light of the fact that General Motors has engaged in major restructuring, causing many long-term employees to be let go. Unemployment is known to result in greater rates of depression and suicide. That irony is unbelievably callous, and further dispiriting to many communities.

NAMI asks that you remove the advertisement from your Web site and discontinue any future broadcast, as a matter of corporate responsibility. We encourage you also to offset its impact by actively supporting the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and those organizations that are working every day to implement it.

Sincerely,

Mike Fitzpatrick, MSW
Executive Director

# # #


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