NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: October 12, 2006
It’s the season for ghosts and goblins, but also stigma.
In some communities, “haunted house” attractions take the form of “insane asylums,” featuring “mental patients” as murderers or ghouls. Even though intended as “fun,” the violent stereotypes serve to perpetuate stigma -- which as reported by the U.S. Surgeon General is one of the greatest barriers to people getting help when they need it. It also is the source of prejudice and discrimination that leads to isolation and impedes progress toward recovery.
Companies or groups that operate stigmatizing Halloween attractions often don’t realize they are contributing to a public health crisis -- and that the federal and state governments spend taxpayer dollars on anti-stigma campaigns to offset the damage.
Protest & Praise: A Tactical Guide
The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsored a teleconference on stigma-busting last month, which included discussion of “Halloween Horrors.” NAMI was one of the presenters. Copies of the presentations can be viewed and printed from SAMHSA’s ADS Center Website.
Presenters emphasized the need to be polite while making contacts in order to start a dialogue. Keep in mind that individuals or companies often do not know what stigma means. Goals are incremental in nature. Small victories still count:
- Initial contact and dialogue
- Simple acknowledgement or apology
- Make changes
- Partnership in sponsoring future events
In all cases, mention the U.S. Surgeon General’s condemnation of stigma and the fact that the federal and state governments are launching a National Anti-Stigma Campaign with the U.S. Ad Council on November 29. Stigma ultimately costs taxpayers money. Will those who generate it help pay for ads?
Halloween Protests: Four Examples
1. Paramount’s Kings Island amusement park in Ohio features Fear Fest, including “The Asylum” and “PsychoPath,” which has been promoted by stigmatizing television and radio spots. NAMI Hamilton County (Cincinnati) has led a protest leading thus far to changes in the words of some radio ads and a statement from the park’s parent company, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, who said they would “consider their sensitivity in future marketing.”
Cedar Fair: Lorrie Paul Crum
Vice-President for Communications
2. The Society of Paranormal Investigation and Research in Tennessee (SPIRIT), a ghost hunters club is staging The Old Salem Insane Asylum, a haunted house in which “mental patientsare trying to get out” and will use any means possible, “including people coming in.” The president of SPIRIT is Terry Mayo. NAMI Tennessee has protested the attraction through a radio interview educating people about stigma, and NAMI members handing out informational material about mental illnesses to people visiting the site.
Contact through Web site
By telephone: 615-849-4020 or 692-8745
3. In Utah, the Daily Herald has called for resurrecting a Haunted Castle at the State Hospital, which for 26 years featured patients as “performers.” The attraction ended in 1997 after NAMI Utah strongly protested the violent stereotypes associated with it as perpetuating stigma -- along with ethical issues involving treatment and exploitation of patients. Funds raised from the annual event paid for half of the hospital’s recreation budget.
The newspaper has condemned NAMI for “political correctness.” We call it social responsibility -- particularly in light of the public costs of stigma, including public education financed by taxpayers.
The paper has asked; “Was closing the Utah State Hospital’s Haunted Castle a good idea?” Read the editorial for yourself and send your comments to email@example.com.
4. In Maryland, a local Field of Screams includes a Two-Story Psycho Haunted House, featuring the legend of a “demonic and evil doctor” and eight children who disappeared. Except for “psycho” in the name, there is not necessarily any reference to mental illness in the promotion -- but it’s anyone’s guess what may await inside. Simply the name can leave a stigmatizing impression.
Contact Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stella March, National Coordinator
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