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StigmaBusting Network and Alerts


NAMI Campaign to End Discrimination
October 15, 2001
Vol. 1 No. 1

Contact Information:

Ms. Stella March

Welcome to the first of the new series of NAMI StigmaBusters Alerts. We will be sending updates/alerts twice a month with additional alerts as needed.

NAMI StigmaBusters, with its dedicated advocates across the country, 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 7,500. Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard.



The World Health Organization report of October 4, 2001 states 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
Since mental illnesses cross all boundaries of race, culture, ethnic backgrounds and geography, StigmaBusters will focus on both national and international print, film and products marketed around the world.

We will continue to commend media portrayals and descriptions with language that conveys accurate messages to the public about mental disorders



    Since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, NAMI has received messages from members concerned about media reports referring to the terrorist Taliban as: "insane", "madmen", and a "cult of psychotics."

    Psychologists would instead argue that a terrorist is not insane, but rather they are fanantics. A terrorist is a person who plans, performs or supports deeds of death and/or destruction, with zeal and dedication, even when suicide is involved. The terrorist's goal is to produce panic, fear and chaos throughout the targeted nation.

    In contrast, person with a severe mental illness has a biological brain disorder and is usually not violent.

    U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher's Report on Mental Illness (Dec. l999) states: "One series of surveys found that selective media reporting reinforced the public's stereotypes linking violence and mental illness and encouraged people to distance themselves from those with mental disorders (Angermeyer & Matschinger, 1996). However, the overall likelihood of violence is low . . . there is very little risk of violence or harm to a stranger from casual contact with an individual who has a mental disorder. . . why is fear of violence so entrenched? Most speculations focus on media coverage and de-institutionalization. (Phelan et al., 1997; Heginbotham, 1998).

    Erica Goode wrote an article in the NY Times on Sept. 12th, 2001 ("Attackers Believed to Be Sane") where she examined the public misperception that the terrorists were mentally ill. She reports that: "the attacks visited on New York and Washington yesterday were in all likelihood the work of perfectly sane people, said experts on the psychology of terrorism. Although such attacks are often termed suicide bombings, the experts said, the bombers themselves are usually not suicidal in any common sense of the word. They do not qualify for any psychiatric diagnosis. They are not impelled by depression, despair or low self-esteem. ''The conventional psychiatric understanding of what goes into individual suicides simply doesn't help us understand this,'' said Dr. Jerrold Post, a professor of political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University. (NY Times 9/12/2001.)

    Indeed the past two weeks have brought more reports about young people in the Middle East who embrace the fundamentalist faith as interpreted by Osama bin Laden. These young people have been recruited and indoctrinated to believe that martyrdom through a suicide attack, would result in heavenly bliss.

    We did receive a letter from one NAMI member arguing that by the nature of the deed, the terrorists must have had mental illnesses, which probably went untreated. But such a comparison trivializes BOTH evil and mental illness. It is an insult to anyone with a mental illness, particularly those who are Americans who love our county and humanity.

    In essence, it's the violence stereotype, but taken to the highest degree. The violence of terrorist activities produces fear and panic in the world population. The stigma of mental illness carries the stereotype of violence that produces fear and panic in the community, but is still a myth.

    Disguise, the world's largest costume company, a division of the international Ceasar Group, has a costume titled "Mental Patient" (subtitled "Member of the Ward"). The costume is a canvas straight jacket with straps and a vinyl frightening "Hannibal type" face-mask.

    Since Halloween is just a few weeks off, messages need to be sent requesting the withdrawal of this stigmatizing costume and to consider the following concerns when creating costumes in the future.

    1. The straitjacket as a costume is most demeaning, dehumanizing, and humiliating to individuals around the world who are struggling with a mental illness and to their families.
    2. The "Hannibal type" vinyl face-mask reinforces the existing fear towards person with mental illness.
    3. This costume, which children will see as they choose their costume for Halloween or other events, serves to further their misperception of mental illness. It encourages the taunting of peers who may show symptoms of mental illness, and it reinforces the refusal of young people to seek treatment for their disorders, for fear of being labeled.
    4. Would you consider a costume for any other disorder of the body, like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's , cancer, etc? Persons with a mental illness deserve the same respect and dignity.
    5. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher has emphasized the need to reduce stigma stating that: "In its most overt and egregious form, stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society."
    Please send your letters or faxes to:

    Mr. Benoit Pousset, President Disguise
    11906 Tech Center Ct.
    Poway, CA 92064

    Telephone: (858) 391-3600
    FAX: (858) 39l-3601

    Disguise Web Site: TARGET retail stores carry the Disguise line of costumes:
    Please e-mail your messages (with the same key points) to: Target Guest Relations:

    We sent the following letter to the president of a mattress company, which was running a commercial on several local radio stations. He had already received a few calls about the commercial. When I phoned to verify whether he had received my letter, I was informed that he was withdrawing the commercial.

    The letter follows:

    Sept. 29, 2001

    This letter has been delayed by terrible attack on the 11th and the current war against terrorism. As the President requested, we are returning to normal activities, which in our case, is reducing the stigma that hurts the one in five Americans who struggle with a severe mental illness.

    The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, has emphasized the need to reduce stigma stating that: "In its most overt and egregious form, stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society."

    Family members of NAMI Los Angeles County affiliates are appalled at your current radio commercial which features selling a used "straitjacket" upon discharge from the "nut house". This language is most offensive, degrading, dehumanizing and inaccurate.

    • Straitjackets, no longer in use (for many years) represent one of the most demeaning stereotypes of persons with metal illness.
    • Many persons with mental illness, just like persons with any other disorder, may need hospitalization from time to time. They go to a mental hospital, NOT A NUTHOUSE.
    • Stigma creates rejection instead of understanding and support by the community. Our sons, daughters, spouses, siblings or parents who take their prescribed medication and accept rehabilitation do recover. They deserve the same respect and sensitivity accorded to persons with other devastating disorders. We doubt you would use language offensive to persons with diabetes, heart diseases, cancer, Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease in this fashion.
    We hope you understand our deep concerns and will withdraw your current radio commercial. We look forward to your response.


    Stella March Coordinator, NAMI Stigmabusters

    We appreciate you reports and questions. We do read and consider them. Please refer to our guidelines on the NAMI Web site at --click on Stigma Alert Listings.

    With your most important support we will continue to Bust the Stigma! We now number 8330. Let your voice be heard.

    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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