Six Leading Mental Health Organizations Call on ABC-TV to Drop Halloween Episode; Stigma Violates TV Network's Own Anti-Bullying Campaign

Oct 27 2015

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Six of the nation's leading mental health organizations have joined in calling on ABC-TV to drop its Wednesday night broadcast of a "Modern Family" Halloween episode that mocks and stigmatizes people with mental health conditions.

A copy of the letter is below, signed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the Bazelon Center on Mental Health Law, the  Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Mental Health America (MHA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), Inc.

The letter includes the observation that the episode violates ABC-TV's own code of Corporate Citizenship and Social Responsibility and that one of the television network's own partners in a current anti-bullying campaign has itself called for an end to the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

Letter to ABC-TV

Mr. Paul Lee
President
ABC Entertainment Group

Dear Mr. Lee:

The undersigned national organizations join in asking that ABC-TV refrain from re-broadcasting this week the stigmatizing Halloween episode of Modern Family, "AwesomeLand" that aired last year.

Mental illness is not a joke. Re-airing an episode that uses an "insane asylum" theme and stereotypes of people living with mental illness as a vehicle for humor is a cruel Halloween trick on the 1 in 5 Americans who experience mental health problems in any given year.

The U.S. Surgeon General and three presidential administrations have identified the stigma associated with mental illness as a very real public health problem. Stigmatizing, stereotyped portrayals such as those in "AwesomeLand"  often discourage people experiencing mental health problems from seeking help when they need it—precisely because they fear becoming subject to ridicule. When it is internalized, stigma also damages a person's progress toward recovery. 

The premiere of the episode last year greatly alarmed the mental health community. It is profoundly disappointing that ABC should now plan to air it again and ignore the public health concerns that surround it. We find it hard to believe that ABC would ever be so dismissive of such concerns if the jokes involved HIV/AIDs or breast cancer. In fact, the episode violates ABC's own code of Citizenship and Social Responsibility in which you call for action to create a better, happier and healthier tomorrow.

ABC's decision to re-air the episode also contradicts the network's partnership with Pacer and other organizations in sponsoring an anti-bullying campaign during National Bullying Prevention Month (October). Pacer is known as a "champion for children with disabilities" and its resources for resources for children's mental health include the video "Make Stigma Disappear" which is a call to action against stigma. 

Please do not undermine your own anti-bullying campaignDo not contradict your own campaign partner. Children and teens who live with mental health conditions are themselves vulnerable to bullying. That vulnerability is increased when a television network spreads stigma recklessly under the guise ofHalloween fun. 

ABC has awesome power as a television network to help make a healthier, better tomorrow for us all.  Please exercise your power responsibly by not re-airing "AwesomeLand."

Sincerely,

Mary Giliberti
Executive Director
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Arlington, Virginia

Harvey Rosenthal
Executive Director
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. (NYAPRS)
Albany, New York

Jennifer Mathis, J.D.
Director of Programs
Bazelon Center on Mental Health Law
Washington, D.C.

Phyllis Foxworth
Vice-President for Advocacy
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Chicago, Illinois

American Psychiatric Association
Arlington, Virginia

Erin Wallace
Senior Director of Communications and Marketing
Mental Health America
Alexandria, Virginia