NAMI Warns Sony and Mattel: International Reputations are at Risk

Protest Focuses On "Psycho" Action Figure And "Twisted Metal: Black" Video Game

Aug 30 2001

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has launched a protest of products marketed by Sony Corporation of America and Mattel, Inc. that violate the U.S. Surgeon General's call on the entertainment industry to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

The protest comes as the First International Conference on Reducing Stigma and Discrimination prepares to convene in Leipzig, Germany on September 2-3, 2001. In an August 28 letter, NAMI executive director Richard Birkel, Ph.D. warned Howard Stringer and Robert Eckert, the CEO's of Sony and Mattel: "In both the United States and abroad, your respective reputations are at risk."

NAMI called on the companies to withdraw the products and to pledge to avoid perpetuating stigma in the future. Birkel's letter also was sent to Jeff Kline, producer of the Max Steel TV series. Specifically, NAMI noted complaints from parents and people with mental illnesses that:

  • The Max Steel TV series, with a character, "Psycho," distributed by Sony, sends an offensive, stereotyped message to children that people with mental illness are violent villains.

The "Psycho" action figure, with an exploding head, marketed by Mattel to children ages four and up, promotes stigma among youngsters who instead need to learn that mental illnesses are brain disorders that require treatment like any other illness.

Sony's violent video game "Twisted Metal: Black," involving characters released from a mental hospital also perpetuates the stigma that prevents people with mental disorders from getting help and impedes recoveries.

"The insensitivity of these products is especially disturbing in light of the fact that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults in the United States," Birkel said. "Ninety percent of suicides involve mental illness. For children especially, taunts of 'psycho' and other epitaphs can be the first barrier to saving lives."

In a series of landmark reports on mental health, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher has emphasized the need to eliminate stigma in order to promote treatment. His most recent report on "Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity" was released on August 26. In November 2001, the World Health Organization also is expected to release a report on the worldwide implications of mental illness.

"Corporate irresponsibility in marketing products of this nature is not limited to the United States," Birkel said. "In a global economy, the offensiveness is multiplied considerably. Mental illness knows no boundaries."