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NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: November 26, 2008

Desperate Housewives: A Thanksgiving Turkey

ABC's Desperate Housewives is currently running a plotline in which a mysterious stranger, "Dave Williams" (played by Neal McDonough), moves into the neighborhood, after marrying one of the characters.

Another character learns that Dave has been released from a "center for the criminally insane." His psychiatrist arrives to confront him. Dave kills the psychiatrist and sets a fire in a nightclub, where he is performing as a member of a garage band, to cover up the crime. He rescues others from the fire and is seen as hero.

It's hard to take Desperate Housewives seriously. It's a cross between a soap opera and a satire. But it's also an award-winning show that has one of the highest ratings on television. It makes an impression. In this case, it reinforces the stereotype that links mental illness to violence.

StigmaBusters has received several complaints. One member notes that "criminally insane" by itself is a stigmatizing term. Many people with mental illnesses who encounter the criminal justice system do not become repeat offenders-provided they are able participate in jail diversion programs and get treatment. The goal is to return people into the community, which Desperate Housewives undermines through its negative portrayal.

Please browse the Desperate Housewives Web site to review summaries of recent episodes and the offensive plotline. Please contact the ABC network and the show's producers to make the following points:

  • The Desperate Housewives plot involving Dave Williams (Neal McDonough) and its reference to "the criminally insane" perpetuates the stigmatizing, inaccurate stereotype that links people with mental illnesses to violence.
  • The U.S. Surgeon General has noted that the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in the country is "exceptionally small" and that stigma is one of the greatest barriers to people getting help when they need it.
  • Please use your position to help eliminate stigma. Develop a character and plot that defies stereotypes, Have a person with mental illness be a genuine hero or positive influence.
  • Share a personal story-about how stigma has affected you or one of hope and inspiration.

ABC Primetime: Send Comments

Audience Relations ABC, Inc.
500 South. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(818) 460-7477

Mr. Marc Cherry
Executive Producer

Mr. Bob Daily
Producer & Writer

Mr. David Grossman
Producer & Director

Touchstone Productions
Desperate Housewives
500 South Buena Vista
Burbank, CA 91521
(888) 777-1000 (Touchstone switchboard)

Special Offer: Out of the Shadow

Filmmaker Susan Smiley has made a special offer for every purchase of a home video or DVD of her award-winning PBS documentary, Out of the Shadow. Between now and December 31, she will donate 20% of the purchase price to NAMI. The offer is for a close-out sale of the DVD for $18.00. The video for home use sells for $27.00.

The film is the story of Millie Smiley, Susan's mother, who while living with schizophrenia, traveled through 17 psychiatric wards, eight apartments, three boarding houses, and countless motels. It is also the story of her family and what Susan has called the "travesties of our public health system, which so poorly cared for my mother. Decades of her life were wasted." It is an inspiring film, but not sugar-coated. At the end, Millie is able to work for the first time in 25 years. "It is a heart-felt and eye-opening film that needs to be seen by everyone, in order to effect change," says NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth.

Out of the Inbox

Because of the large number of StigmaBuster messages received, not every one can be answered individually, however, we appreciate every e-mail and do review every stigma report and prioritizing them for action. We also appreciate receiving copies of responses. They are important in helping to coordinate strategy and pursue genuine dialogue. You are our eyes and ears! Your help makes a difference! Please send reports of stigma to Stella March.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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