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NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: October 4, 2007

Help CANVAS Fight Stigma – No Matter Where You Live

During Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct 7-13), the movie CANVAS  will be released in five cities. Whether it succeeds will depend on how well it plays at the box office—in terms of tickets sold. The test will be in Chicago and New York on October 12, followed by Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Phoenix on October 19.  If Friday and Saturday ticket sales run high, the release will expand to 200 cities nationwide.

Starring award-winning actors Marcia Gay Harden and Joe Pantoliano, CANVAS is the story of a family's struggle with schizophrenia. The film educates as well as entertains. It will strike a blow against stigma, but only if enough people see it.

The NAMI Advocate has suggested ways to help. You don't even have to live in one of the five cities. Here are the key ones:

  • Go see the movie if you live in those metro areas
  • Spread the word! Email family and friends in the five cities about the film this week!
  • Buy tickets on-line early during the week before each opening. Donate tickets to others.

Theater locations currently are available for four of the five cities. Check local listings for Ft. Lauderdale as the date approaches.

  • In Chicago, starting Oct 12: AMC Loews 600 North Michigan 9, 600 N. Michigan Ave. 60611
  • In New York, starting Oct12: Regal Union Square Stadium 14, 850 Broadway, 10003
  • In Los Angeles, starting Oct 19:  Laemmie Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Boulevard, 90046
  • In Phoenix, starting Octo19: Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd, (Scottsdale) 85260

Modeling Straitjackets

On October 3, "America's Next Top Model" featured contestants "perfecting their runway walk" while wearing straitjackets, as part of a competition to prove they can make it in "the high-stress, high-stakes world of supermodeling." The set was a mock, abandoned psychiatric ward and the modeling coach, dressed as a nurse, scolded them not to walk "like the former patients of this hospital."

The CW Television Network needs to know:

  • The episode was outrageous—mocking people with mental illnesses. Would the show ever use a cancer ward as the setting for a modeling test?
  • Straitjackets represent extremely painful, traumatic experiences. Their image is hurtful to individuals and families who struggle with mental illness.
  • Using straitjackets for entertainment demeans individual dignity and trivializes mental illness.
  • Straitjackets are often associated with violence. Their image reinforces the kind of stigma that the U.S. Surgeon General has found to be a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it.

Rick Mater
Senior Vice-President for Broadcast Standards
The CW Television Network
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017

Halloween Horrors

It's the season again for ghosts and goblins, and unfortunately stigma. Every year, some local haunted house attractions take the form of "insane asylums," featuring "mental patients" as murderers or ghouls.  Halloween costumes or other products may reflect similar themes.  If Halloween stigma arises in your community:

  • Contact the civic sponsor or commercial owner of an attraction or the store manager. Usually, no one intends to offend, but they need to understand that the effect is not only offensive, but also generates stigma.
  • If necessary, ask for a group meeting. Explain the public health concern.
  • Ask that the theme of the attraction be changed or modified. If the immediate cost is too great, ask for a public statement or written letter of assurance that the theme won't be repeated in future years.
  • Ask that a store product be removed from shelves. For chain stores, ask to contact the regional manager.
  • Generate a letter-writing campaign. Work as part of group. Inform the news media. Write letters to editors. Use the controversy as a "teaching moment" about mental illness and the need to eliminate stigma
  • Try to create partnerships for the future. Thank and praise responsiveness. After the controversy is resolved, invite the civic group or business to support NAMI's broader goals by helping sponsor a walkathon or other local event. Ask if they can help distribute pamphlets.

Stigma "Red Flags"

Whether it's a Halloween attraction or any other portrayal in the entertainment or advertising industries, here are factors that can be weighed to determine whether mental illness or people with mental illnesses are being stigmatized.

  • Inaccuracy
  • Stereotypes
  • Portrayed only as antagonists or villains
  • Linkage to violence
  • Disparaging language
  • Devaluation (trivialization)
  • Using mental illness as the butt of a joke
  • Offensive or insensitive symbols (e.g., straitjackets)

Out of the Inbox

Because of the large number of StigmaBuster emails received each month, NAMI cannot answer each individually; however, we appreciate every message and evaluate every stigma report, prioritizing them for action. We also appreciate receiving copies of replies from StigmaBuster targets.  They are important in helping to coordinate strategy and pursuing genuine dialogue. You are our eyes and ears and your help makes a difference.

 To receive StigmaBuster Alerts directly in your inbox, visit, sign in, and check the box next to StigmaBusters.

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