NAMI Warns ABC Television: "Wonderland" is Hazardous to Public Health

TV Show's Themes of Violence, Suicide, No Hope Put People With Mental Illnesses at Risk

Mar 28 2000

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) warns that the new ABC series, Wonderland, which premiers on March 30th poses "a potentially dangerous threat" to the health and welfare of Americans with mental illnesses-and constitutes "reckless indifference" by the network at a time when the U.S. Surgeon General recently has released a report on mental health promoting effective treatments and a call for the prevention of suicides. In fact, Wonderland may create an increased risk of suicides in communities served by ABC affiliates.

NAMI's concern is based in part on the fact that the show, set in a criminal psychiatric hospital, promotes stigma by focusing on "the most extreme, hopeless cases" and presenting people with mental illnesses as "killers, crazies and freaks." In a letter to producer Peter Berg, NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn declared: "Imagine if the first network television series that featured African-American characters had been set in a welfare office."

But of far greater concern are Wonderland's themes of violence, suicide and lack of hope. In a letter to ABC, Flynn said the themes "belie the science-based, evidence-based reality of mental illness today," in which treatment success rates are greater than that for heart disease. Wonderland's "images and tone are guaranteed to discourage viewers from seeking treatment if they need it, and to generate turmoil or despair in anyone who is in treatment."

In one episode, a man with schizophrenia who killed several people in Times Square commits suicide after being treated. The intensity of the scene, Flynn advised ABC, is "unsettling and suggestive" and could generate an increased risk of suicides in communities served by ABC affiliates. NAMI has asked ABC to provide warnings to suicide hotlines around the country; appropriate disclaimers before each episode; as well as public service announcements and other programming "to offset the show's negative messages."