Letter from NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn to Wonderland Executive Producer, Peter Berg
Mar 27 2000
Mr. Peter Berg
609 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10014
Dear Mr. Berg:
After viewing the two episodes of Wonderland (EpL504 and EpL505) you sent to NAMI, I am greatly concerned about the millions of Americans affected by severe mental illnesses who will be placed at risk by your program.
I know that this was not your intent. From interviews you have given to the media it seems that your personal experience with the world of mental illness at Bellevue was an exposure to the most extreme, hopeless cases. Unfortunately, that experience will be the first view that many people will see of serious mental illnesses. Imagine if the first network television series that featured African-American characters had been set in a welfare office.
Consumers and families who deal with life-threatening mental illnesses everyday will be stunned and hurt that the first network television program to deal solely with mental illness is relentlessly stereotypical and bleak. Wonderland offers no hope and no vision of the reality of recovery.
Frankly, I worry about my daughter, a young professional who has a serious mental illness and is living a successful life of independence and recovery, watching Wonderland. All of her fears about how she is viewed by others will be reinforced. All of her uncertainty about the long-term efficacy of her treatment will be reinforced. And, most terrifying to me, all of the life-threatening thoughts she has during an episode- about being a burden to her family, about never being able to "have a life," about always being on the brink of the enormous pain she feels-will be reinforced. I reject your message to her that suicide is the solution.
Where does Wonderland reflect the courage my daughter and millions of others exhibit everyday as they go to work, raise children, pay taxes and live with serious mental illnesses?
Wonderland presents a relentless dehumanization of people with psychiatric disorders. Yes, this nation's mental health system is inadequate. NAMI believes one of the reasons to be portrayals of people with mental illnesses like those in your program. "These" people are killers, crazies and freaks. "They" can't be helped. "They" can't be treated. Why should anyone try?
NAMI believes television can play a tremendously important role in educating Americans about the true nature of severe mental illness. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Wonderland in its current form. I ask you to minimize the damage the show will do to people in treatment and people who may need to seek treatment. On behalf of NAMI's 210,000 members, I ask you to:
- Eliminate or edit extensively the suicide scene in the second episode, including the reading of the suicide note.
- Support our request to ABC to provide appropriate warnings and a disclaimer before each episode (See enclosed letter to ABC Broadcast Standards & Practices).
- Acknowledge clearly in public statements, interviews and other publicity that Wonderland depicts only a narrow part of the world of mental illness.
- Provide advance copies of future scripts for consumer and family comments and to allow NAMI and similar organizations the opportunity to prepare members for potentially harmful and dangerous themes such as the suicide in the second episode.
- Work with us to educate the public about the hope and effectiveness of treatment, including appearances by you and cast members in public service announcements.
I would like to meet or talk with you as soon as possible to discuss these concerns further. Thank you for considering NAMI's views.