StigmaBusting Network and Alerts
NAMI STIGMA BUSTERS ALERT
March 29, 2000.
|Contact Information: |
Ms. Stella March, Coordinator
NAMI StigmaBusters now number 4,000 dedicated advocates across the country who are fighting the pervasive and damaging stigma that exists toward mental illness. Numbers count!
Together, we can end the stigma!
WONDERLAND SPECIAL ALERT
"Wonderland" the new dramatic television series based in a psychiatric hospital premieres on ABC at 10:00 PM, Thursday, March 30th (opposite ER).
The following are NAMI's release and letters to the writer/producer, Peter Berg, to the executives in charge at ABC Network and Imagine Entertainment, and to the media. They provide advance information about the content of this series and are for use in your own letters to these executives. The number of messages, as with legislative advocacy, will also count with them. We will later provide a list of advertisers to reach with your comments and requests. This is the most important and far-reaching stigma system we have had to date. We look for your total support!
1. Contact your local ABC affiliates and ask that:
- Warnings/disclaimers be broadcast before each show.
- The phone number of local suicide hotlines be broadcast on their 11:00 PM news immediately following the program.
- Their 11:00 PM news include a story on the U.S. Surgeon General's report emphasizing the effectiveness of treatment, and also address the fact that Wonderland only reflects a narrow, extreme view of people with mental illnesses.
- Be prepared to fax or deliver copies of NAMI's release and letters to station news directors.
2. Send your own comments to ABC and Wonderland Producer Peter Berg at the addresses and faxes indicated at the end of this alert.
Mr. Peter Berg
March 27, 2000
Executive Producer, Wonderland
609 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10014
Dear Mr. Berg:
After viewing the two episodes of Wonderland (EpL504 and EpL505) you sent to NAMI, I am greatly concerned about the millions of Americans affected by severe mental illnesses who will be placed at risk by your program.
I know that this was not your intent. From interviews you have given to the media it seems that your personal experience with the world of mental illness at Bellevue was an exposure to the most extreme, hopeless cases. Unfortunately, that experience will be the first view that many people will see of serious mental illnesses. Imagine if the first network television series that featured African-American characters had been set in a welfare office.
Consumers and families who deal with life-threatening mental illnesses everyday will be stunned and hurt that the first network television program to deal solely with mental illness is relentlessly stereotypical and bleak. Wonderland offers no hope and no vision of the reality of recovery.
Frankly, I worry about my daughter, a young professional who has a serious mental illness and is living a successful life of independence and recovery, watching Wonderland. All of her fears about how she is viewed by others will be reinforced. All of her uncertainty about the long-term efficacy of her treatment will be reinforced. And, most terrifying to me, all of the life--threatening thoughts she has during an episode--about being a burden to her family, about never being able to "have a life," about always being on the brink of the enormous pain she feels-will be reinforced. I reject your message to her that suicide is the solution. Where does Wonderland reflect the courage my daughter and millions of others exhibit everyday as they go to work, raise children, pay taxes and live with serious mental illnesses?
Wonderland presents a relentless dehumanization of people with psychiatric disorders. Yes, this nation's mental health system is inadequate. NAMI believes one of the reasons to be portrayals of people with mental illnesses like those in your program. "These" people are killers, crazies and freaks. "They" can't be helped. "They" can't be treated. Why should anyone try?
NAMI believes television can play a tremendously important role in educating Americans about the true nature of severe mental illness. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Wonderland in its current form. I ask you to minimize the damage the show will do to people in treatment and people who may need to seek treatment. On behalf of NAMI's 210,000 members, I ask you to:
1. Eliminate or edit extensively the suicide scene in the second episode, including the reading of the suicide note.
2. Support our request to ABC to provide appropriate warnings and a disclaimer before each episode (See enclosed letter to ABC Broadcast Standards & Practices).
3. Acknowledge clearly in public statements, interviews and other publicity that Wonderland depicts only a narrow part of the world of mental illness.
4. Provide advance copies of future scripts for consumer and family comments and to allow NAMI and similar organizations the opportunity to prepare members for potentially harmful and dangerous themes, such as the suicide in the second episode.
5. Work with us to educate the public about the hope and effectiveness of treatment, including appearances by you and cast members in public service announcements.
I would like to meet or talk with you as soon as possible to discuss these concerns further.
Thank your for considering NAMI's views.
For Immediate Release Contact: Peg Nichols or Mary Rappaport
March 28, 2000
NAMI WARNS ABC TELEVISION: "WONDERLAND" IS HAZARDOUS TO PUBLIC HEALTH
TV Show's Themes of Violence, Suicide, No Hope Put People With Mental Illnesses at Risk
Arlington, VA- The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) warns that the new ABC series, Wonderland, which premieres on March 30th poses "a potentially dangerous threat" to the health and welfare of Americans with mental illnesses-and constitutes "reckless indifference" by the network at a time when the U.S. Surgeon General recently has released a report on mental health promoting effective treatments and a call for the prevention of suicides. In fact, Wonderland may create an increased risk of suicides in communities served by ABC affiliates.
NAMI's concern is based in part on the fact that the show, set in a criminal psychiatric hospital, promotes stigma by focusing on "the most extreme, hopeless cases" and presenting people with mental illnesses as "killers, crazies and freaks." In a letter to producer Peter Berg, NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn declared: Imagine if the first network television series that featured African-American characters had been set in a welfare office."
But of far greater concern are Wonderland's themes of violence, suicide and lack of hope. In a letter to ABC, Flynn said the themes "belie the science-based, evidence-based reality of mental illness
today," in which treatment success rates are greater than that for heart disease. Wonderland's "images and tone are guaranteed to discourage viewers from seeking treatment if they need it, and to generate turmoil or despair in anyone who is in treatment."
In one episode, a man with schizophrenia who killed several people in Times Square commits suicide after being treated. The intensity of the scene, Flynn advised ABC, is "unsettling and suggestive"
and could generate an increased risk of suicides in communities served by ABC affiliates. NAMI has asked ABC to provide warnings to suicide hotlines around the country and appropriate
disclaimers before each episode, as well as public service announcements and other programming "to offset the show's negative messages."
Vice-President for Broadcast Standards & Practices
ABC Television Network
77 West 66th Street
New York, N.Y. 10023-6201
Dear Ms. Hikawa:
Enclosed please find a copy of my letter to Peter Berg, producer of Wonderland, which is scheduled to premiere on ABC on March 30th. I wrote the letter after NAMI staff and two outside focus groups viewed two prospective episodes of the series.
Beyond the comments expressed in my letter to Mr. Berg, I am greatly concerned about the reckless indifference that ABC will demonstrate by airing the series. The program poses a potentially dangerous threat to the health and welfare of Americans with mental illnesses. The network and its affiliates risk condemnation and perhaps even legal liability if the series runs in its current form.
Because of the potential impact on people suffering from serious depression or other mental illnesses, NAMI is warning its 210,000 members nationwide about the risks of watching the show-and the
need to provide extra support to anyone who does. ABC and its affiliates have a responsibility to provide similar warnings: including a special alert to suicide hotlines across the country; an appropriate disclaimer before each episode; as well as public service announcements and other programming to offset the show's negative messages.
In one episode, for example, a man with schizophrenia who killed several people in Times Square commits suicide-after being medicated and regaining clarity of mind.
More than the violence that precedes it, the intensity of the suicide scene is cause for major concern: it is unsettling and suggestive for anyone who has-or is-struggling with mental illness. Individual suicides sometimes generate "suicide epidemics" in communities, based on the degree of publicity and graphic description. As a result, most news media follow careful standards in reporting them. In the name of entertainment, however, ABC intends to televise a suicide as a dramatic centerpiece, complete with the character reading aloud a suicide note that communicates a message of despair that flows directly from his improved mental condition. Also enclosed is a summary of findings of two focus groups recently conducted for NAMI on the two episodes. Disturbingly, Wonderland is about lack of hope or recovery, which belies the science-based, evidence-based reality of mental illness today. The treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent; 65 percent for major depression; and 80 percent for bipolar disorder (manic depression). In contrast, the show's images and tone are guaranteed to discourage viewers from seeking treatment if they need it, and to generate turmoil or despair in anyone who is in treatment-with attendant risks of relapse or worse. At a time when the U.S. Surgeon General has released the nation's first Report on Mental Health, as well as a Call for the Prevention of Suicide, it is difficult to understand how ABC can be so ignorant, insensitive and discordant in its programming.
I would like an opportunity to meet with you and other network representatives to discuss these concerns in greater detail, as soon as possible.
Mr. Peter Berg
c/o Hostage Productions
609 Greenwich St., Ste. 8A
New York, NY 10014
Mr. Stu Bloomberg
Mr. Lloyd Braun
Co-Chairs ABC Entertainment
2040 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
FAX: (310) 557-3939
Mr. Mark Eisner
Chairman & CEO
Walt Disney Company
500 Buena Vista Street,
Burbank, CA 91521
FAX: (818) 560-1300
Ron Howard, Co-Chairman and
Tony Krantz, TV CEO
9465 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
FAX: (310) 858-2011
Thank you again for your support, an essential part of educating the TV media to include positive images of individuals with mental illness. We know that the majority of people with mental illnesses live with positive outcomes, while only the minority are institutionalized at forensic hospitals like New York's Bellevue, where the research for this series took place.
Stella March, Coordinator
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