December 12, 2003
NAMI HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS: Help Fight Stigma
For Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the New Year! If you still haven't decided what to give as gifts to relatives, friends, co-workers, or even an adversary for the holidays, please consider something different and interesting that will help NAMI fight stigma and increase understanding of mental illnesses. Check out NAMI's "12 Days of Christmas" list at http://www.nami.org/amazon.
OUCH! NOT AGAIN!
It seems to be the season for political leaders or commentators using stigma associated with mental illness to attack candidates with whom they disagree.
Remember Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's attack this summer on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ("off his meds and out of therapy") and the Camden County, New Jersey Democratic Committee's ad this fall against an incumbent state legislator ("Medication not working" with a photograph of a man in a straitjacket)?
The latest offender is syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post--a former psychiatrist--who published a piece entitled the "Delusional Dean" on December 5, 2003. (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37125-2003Dec4.html).
Krauthammer used mental illness as a satirical metaphor to attack recent statements by Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and stepped beyond satire into stigma.
He coined "Bush Derangement Syndrome" (BDS) as a new diagnosis and proclaimed: "it's time to check on thorazine supplies."
Krauthammer also may have helped stoke crass, inappropriate innuendo about Dean--who is sometimes criticized for his temper and who also openly has indicated that he once sought help to deal with his emotions after his brother was declared missing in Laos in the 1970s--by writing: "I cannot testify to Howard Dean's sanity before this campaign, but five terms as governor with no visible tics and history of involuntary confinement is pretty good evidence of a normal mental status."
As a psychiatrist by background, Krauthammer has no business speculating, satirically or otherwise, about the mental state of political candidates--or anyone else--based on policy differences or factual disputes. The column smacks of an abuse of power and violation of professional ethics, in addition to perpetuation of prejudice and discrimination.
Please send Krauthammer a message:
Send one also to the Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, who helps to oversee professional and ethical standards for the newspaper.
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20071
Remind them that:
*Statements or commentary that use stigma associated with mental illnesses to discredit political candidates or opponents are unacceptable--no matter what the party or the intent. President Bush and the U.S. Surgeon General both have called for the elimination of stigma as a matter of national policy.
*What are their professional and ethical standards? No newspaper would ever run such a column using a satirical metaphor based on heart disease, diabetes, paraplegia, or other tragic medical conditions. The column represents a back-handed appeal to prejudice and discrimination against people with distinct disabilities, and also may violate professional ethics for psychiatrists.
*One out of every five Americans experiences a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune. Meanwhile, Krauthammer has ignored significant mental health policy proposals that both President Bush and Governor Dean have initiated. Americans have a right to expect a higher level of commentary and analysis from Post columnists.
The Funny Farm Bar & Grill recently opened in a Tulsa, Oklahoma strip mall behind a Burger King under the slogan: "You'd be crazy not to go" and a sign depicting a scarecrow in a straitjacket.
Owner Jack Jones has proven open to initial dialogue, but wants to hear from actual customers or Tulsa residents before considering changes in the restaurant's theme. The burden now shifts to StigmaBusters in Oklahoma to pursue our concerns. If you live in Tulsa, have friends or relatives there or simply are passing through, please consider having a group stop by. Talk with Jack over a soda. Try to persuade him that he should set an example by doing what's right.
Mr. Jack Jones, Owner
Funny Farm Bar & Grill
8278 East 71st Street
Tulsa, OK 74133
It's important to thank companies that have proven open and responsive to NAMI concerns about stigma. Please send a holiday card or note of thanks to:
Chairman & CEO
22000 AOL Way
Dulles, Virginia 20166
Thank you again for your support. Best wishes for the holidays.
With more than 220,000 members and 1200 state and local affiliates, NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with severe mental illnesses.
Funding sources for NAMI programs include hundreds of state and local governments and foundations; tens of thousands of individual donors; and a growing number of corporations. NAMI's greatest asset, however, is its volunteers, who donate an estimated $135 million worth of their time each year to education, support and advocacy. NAMI does not endorse any specific medication or treatment.
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