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April 18, 2003

Please Join NAMI in Objecting to Biased and Inaccurate Portrayal of ADHD on Montel Williams Show!

On Tuesday, April 15 the Montel Williams Show aired an outrageous and inaccurate program on the treatment and diagnosis of ADHD titled, "A Parent's Right to Choose." NAMI strongly objected to the shows biased and unprofessional presentation of the realities of childhood mental illnesses and the misinformation communicated to families across the country.

The show irresponsibly aired a very one-sided and dangerous depiction of the "myths" of treating and diagnosing ADHD in children and did not include one qualified medical professional or any of the well documented scientific research on mental illnesses in children. ADHD and other mental illnesses in children are real, prevalent and treatable- and of great concern to NAMI are the unacceptably high number of children with mental illnesses that are not being diagnosed and treated. It is the role of qualified medical professionals in conjunction with the family to make the decision whether to prescribe medication as part of a treatment plan. The Montel Williams Show did a great disservice to the millions of families struggling to get the necessary and appropriate treatment for their child.

ACTION REQUESTED: NAMI members are asked to do the following to express outrage concerning the biased and inaccurate information aired on the Montel Williams Show on April 15.  Attached below is NAMI's letter sent to the show's executive producers and a second letter sent to the local TV station that aired this irresponsible programming. NAMI members are encouraged to use both NAMI letters as templates when contacting the Montel Williams Show and the local TV station that carries the show.

  • Send or fax a letter protesting the Montel Williams Show. Letters should be sent to: Montel Williams and Diane Rappaport, Executive Producers, The Montel Williams Show, 433 West 53rd St., New York, NY 10019-5603 or faxed to: 212-262-4602
  • Send a complaint with copy of this E-News to your local TV station that carries the show. To find out which stations in your area carry the program check local newspaper listings or the show's website, http://www.montelshow.com/. It is very important that complaints be made to the station, not just the show.
  • Send a copy of the complaint sent to the TV station to the Federal Communication Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20554.
  • All NAMI members and advocates are also encouraged to contact their members of Congress and provide accurate information on the prevalence of childhood mental illnesses and to share with them that appropriate diagnosis and treatment can make a real difference for a child and their family.

All members of Congress can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard toll free at 1-800-839-5276 or at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page of the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress." District and Washington office numbers can be found in your local phone book or through http://www.congress.org/

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April 17, 2003

Montel Williams and Diane Rappaport
Executive Producers
The Montel Williams Show
433 West 53rd St.
New York, NY 10019-5603
Fax: 212-262-4602
 

Dear Mr. Williams and Ms. Rappaport:

I wish to object in the strongest possible terms to the biased, one-sided, unprofessional presentation of A Parent's Right to Choose, televised by stations around the country on Tuesday, April 15th.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has 220,000 members and 1200 affiliates nationwide, consisting of individuals with mental illnesses, their families and friends. Your program did not present a single scientific or medical expert, person with a mental illness or family member to balance the often inaccurate information or inflammatory rhetoric of the guests you selected. The show is especially irresponsible, to the point of potential legal liability, to the degree that it may have influenced parents not to seek appropriate help for children or to discontinue treatment -with a risk of tragic consequences.

It is difficult to summarize the full range of oversights, errors and misrepresentations that characterized the program. To list only a few:

  • You shamelessly exploited Vicky and Steve, whose 10 year-old daughter, Shaina, died of desipramine toxicity. On the facts presented, the death appears to represent possible malpractice by an individual physician (not a psychiatrist) who prescribed an excessive dosage of the medication-rather than an indictment of the diagnosis or medication per se. NAMI otherwise agrees with her father's basic advice: "get more than one opinion."
  • You completely blurred or distorted the different roles that family physicians, pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists play in the healthcare system and the relationship they have, if any, to schools. You completely failed to explore any principle of partnership necessary in the relationship between parents, teachers, and medical professionals in supporting a parent's right to make informed choices for their children.
  • NAMI respects the religious freedom of anyone whom you might choose to have as a guest on your show; however, you failed in your professional responsibility to disclose the fact that the Citizens Commission on Human Rights' represented by two key guests was founded by the Church of Scientology, which opposes psychiatry and psychiatric medications as a matter of doctrine. Parents may rely on religious faith in making choices for children, but public health policy needs to be based on science, rather than religious ideology.
  • Your principal "medical expert" had only a degree in osteopathic medicine. No board certified pediatrician or children's psychiatrist was included on the program. No teacher's or school perspective was included. Not a single family with an alternative perspective (i.e., with a child whose life has been helped or saved through early diagnosis and treatment) was included.
  • Your references to "crack babies," "kiddy cocaine" and high school shooters with "sniper rifles" were inflammatory, inappropriate and apparently based on a lack of understanding of mental illnesses, serving only to perpetuate the stigma that has surrounded them. Stigma represents ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, which the U.S. Surgeon General has identified as one of the major obstacles to people getting help when they need it.
  • You and your guests referred to state legislative proposals and urged viewers to contact Congress without providing minimal-let alone equal time-for opposing views. The program was turned essentially into an hour-long, unpaid political commercial.

As many as 12 million children struggle today with biological brain disorders. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that approximately 80 percent never get the help they need.

Not every child needs medication and there probably are some on medication who should not be but the primary challenge is that as a nation, we are not providing help to children who need it. Too many children continue at risk while programs such as yours present a sensationalized sideshow questioning an overwhelming scientific and medical consensus. The show's passing reference to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) wholly misrepresented federal concerns for mental healthcare, including those of President Bush's "New Freedom" Commission on Mental Health, which in its interim report earlier this year declared:

"Intervening with good services can help to prevent the worst nightmares  for families: school failure, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and suicide." Unfortunately, you did not include the Surgeon General, members of the New Freedom Commission, NIMH research scientists, or any other scientific or medical experts let alone NAMI consumers or family memberson the program. You are correct in your prediction during the show that the episode would be controversial. However, there is a big difference between controversy and irresponsibility. In your case, you have recklessly broadcast misinformation that will only contribute to, rather than resolve, an ongoing public health crisis.

Sincerely,

Darcy E. Gruttadaro, J.D.
Director, Child & Adolescent Action Center
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

cc: Federal Communications Commission

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NAMI members are encouraged to use the following template when contacting the General Manager of your local TV station airing the Montel Williams Show.

Name General Manager
TV Station Call Letters
Address

Dear _________

On the advice of the FCC, I wish to make a formal complaint to ____-TV for the episode of the Montel Williams Show that you broadcast on April 15, 2003.  In accordance with its legal obligation to operate in the public interest, I ask that _____-TV ensure that equal time is provided to opposing views concerning parents and the treatment of children with mental illnesses.

Enclosed is a copy of a report about the show by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Along with NAMI, as a (professional title, consumer or family status), I would be glad to help your news and/or public affairs department to develop an appropriate programming.

[Personal story if appropriate]

The final report and recommendations of President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which will be released this spring, might help to provide a convenient basis for a special feature or series.

Thank you for your attention to this complaint.

Sincerely,

 

cc: Federal Communications Commission


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