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For January 2000, scroll to bottom of page.

December 24, 2000 - News of the Week



For days, CBS advertised the show with clips of "mental instability" from the comedy

A recent episode of Bette, titled "Diva Interrupted," takes its title and theme from "Girl Interrupted," a book (and a movie) about an 18-year-old who spent two years in a psychiatric hospital. Looking for a way to attract the attention of her bored fans, Ms. Midler's character fakes a nervous breakdown and sets up a wild trip to a psychiatric hospital (Dec. 20, Episode 10).

The show was reported to us by a Floridian who battles symptoms of manic-depression. During the show our media-watcher's pain and anger became so intense that she had to switch off the TV. (She had intended to jot down all of the "amusing" ways Bette tried to impersonate "a person having a breakdown.")

Bette's 8:00 P.M. time slot on Wednesdays assures that children and teenagers saw this pathetic and demeaning attempt at humor. Does this mean that mental illness stereotypes, both ridiculous and violent, are here to stay? The public is often asked to trust the self-monitoring good judgment of the media industry. But for mental illnesses, trust does not work.

Our Florida activist called CBS to explain the pain and damage caused by the show. She also made a list of sponsors (available on request, e-mail

Please take just a few minutes to let CBS hear from you:

  • Audience Comments, E-mail:

  • Audience Comments, Telephone: 212-975-3247

  • Leslie Moonves, President & Chief Executive
    CBS Television
    7800 Beverly Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 9006
    Tel: 323-575-4321

  • David F. Poltrack
    CBS Research & Planning
    51 West 52nd Street
    New York, NY 10019
    Tel: 212-975-4321

  • BETTE Production Office
    10202 West Washington Boulevard
    Culver City, CA 90232
    Tel: 310-202-2788
    (closed until Jan. 2)
  • Contact info for Prozac:

    Eli Lilly and Company
    Lilly Corporate Center
    Indianapolis, IN 46285
    Tel: 317-276-2000
    To E-mail, go to, then click "contact us"

  • December 3, 2000 - News of the Week


    This week's "news" addresses continuing efforts to expand court-ordered psychotropic medication through the use of fear tactics. The divisiveness of this issue is illustrated in two recent articles. An op-ed piece in the Orlando Sentinel by E. Fuller Torrey is available on : general resources : articles. An editorial by Dan E. Weisburd appears in the latest issue of The Journal of NAMI California. To request a copy, E-mail stigma Remember to include your mailing address.

    ITEM 1 is a commentary on E. Fuller Torrey's damaging use of fear tactics.

    ITEM 2 is a letter to the Orlando Sentinel from Harold Maio, an activist in Fort Myers, Florida.
    Item 1:

    E. Fuller Torrey's op-ed article in the Orlando Sentinel (Oct.27) is titled, "Not Treating Mental Illness is Dangerous and Deadly." The article is an attack on Florida's Baker Act, a hard-won law intended to protect people diagnosed with mental illnesses from institutional abuse.

    The article uses two violent incidents that occurred this Fall in Melbourne, Florida -- resulting in a homicide, a critical injury, and a suicide -- to advocate for stiffer laws that expand the grounds for court-ordered medication.

    Torrey, who heads the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) in Arlington, Virginia, seeks to frighten the public into supporting his ideas. But scaring the public has far-reaching consequences. In New York we are seeing the fallout from a fear campaign in 1999 for forced-treatment legislation (Kendra's Law). "The Railroading of Andrew Goldstein," by Patricia Warburg Cliff, is an article in the latest issue of The Journal of NAMI California ("Mental Illness and the Law"). Ms. Cliff, a NAMI board member, is dismayed that Kendra Webdale's mentally ill subway assailant, Andrew Goldstein, has been sentenced to state prison. She asks,"Has the 'justice system' reverted to a witch hunt to punish the violent mentally ill whom the public system has dismally failed?" It's a good question.

    Advocates must carefuly examine what is happening. The bedrock issues in TAC's crusade for more forced treatment are "lack of insight" and "medication noncompliance." But in fact, it is alcohol and substance-abuse disorders that push violence rates above the rates found in the general population. Ironically, substance-abuse and mental-health policymakers feel little pressure from advocates or the public as they argue endlessly over who is to provide the crucial dual-diagnosis programs.

    Clarence Sundram, who for 20 years chaired the New York State Commision on Quality of Care, points out the futility of passing harsher laws: "The focus of coercion upon the patient is, I submit, a misdirection of energy. Coercion is needed, but to enforce the [discharge planning] laws already on the books that are routinely disregarded with impunity, either because of the scarcity of resources or because of conflicting pressures."

    Advocates should question the wisdom of supporting divisive new laws that have not improved conditions in states where they were tried.

    Item 2:
    Letter to the Orlando Sentinel from Harold A. Maio, Director, The Mental Health Clearing House, Fort Myers, Florida. E-mail:

    Dear Letters Editor:

    E. Fuller Torrey states that "1,000 homicides in the United States are committed each year by people who have untreated mental illness." According to recent statistics for murders in the U.S., about 20,000 people are murdered each year. That would mean that I, a person with severe depression, am 20 times more likely to be murdered by E. Fuller Torrey than he is by me, and that I should fear him 20 times more than he should fear me.

    I do fear him.

    I do for several reasons: First, it is his goal to instill fear into the public - with the help of the media - about people like myself.

    Second, he employs the term "mental illness" as a catch-all for every mental illness. There are many mental illnesses, just as there are many physical illnesses; and I assure you there are physical illnesses we fear, and many we do not.

    Third, history has continually revealed the abuses that abound in the area of mental health "treatment" and each state has fought ways to interdict this abuse without succes. This pattern has persisted since the "Discovery of the Asylum" in the 1820's (a book by David Rothman which I highly recommend) to the present day. Florida recently contracted its South Florida institution to a private company because it was not able to contain the abuses - by employees - of people supposedly there for treatment. The state is in the process of closing another, coldly isolated institution in a cattle pasture outside a small town in Central Florida for similar reasons.

    Florida, like many other states, is beginning to step into the 21st century and realize that for the vast majority of mental illnesses, the best treatment is in integrated settings. That does not mean that we, as the rest of the public, will all succeed, or even succeed to the same degree. But we will have a better chance in an integrated setting. For a real-life illustration, I have been married for 28 years. I have 2 children, a girl 21, and son 15. I have taught throughout my life, from university level to public and private school. I have been "treated" in the worst institutions and in the best. I am not the "unusual success," but the general rule.

    Harold A. Maio, Director, The Mental Health Clearing House, Fort Myers, Florida. E-mail:

    Dr. Torrey's estimate of "1,000 homicides" is not substantiated by scientific research. And in another calculation, he equates "violence" with "homicide." These and other distortions of fact are hard to spot and unfortunately even more difficult to undo.

    November 19, 2000 - News of the Week

    A Veterans Employment Program in California
    Finds It Must Uproot Psychiatric Stereotypes
    A project to help disabled veterans reach employment goals is off to a flying start in San Joaquin County, California. Its creators recognize that employment speeds recovery for many people.

    But the first step, says Albert Lara, a disabled veterans' specialist in the state's Employment Development Department, is to challenge prevailing negative stereotypes about mental illness.

    Lara, drawing on his own experiences as a veteran, helped plan a public education campaign that includes posters, flyers, literature for employers, and media participation. The posters ask the public to "Know Us For Who We Are - Productive and Responsible Employees," and a reminder that "Employment Is For ALL Californians." Lara's goal is to have posters in every employment office in the state of California.

    Beginning in January, veterans and their friends will attend monthly 3-hour Employment Transition Workshops. In addition, case management services and stress management sessions are available to assist people who are beginning job searches or exploring vocational options. Lara conducts free Yoga classes for those who find them helpful to reduce anxiety, pain, and tension.

    The employment project is supported by a collaboration of San Joaquin County agencies. Awards and praise have come from veterans' organizations, advocacy groups, and the media. To learn more, contact Albert Lara, Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialist, P. O. Box 2006, Manteca CA, 95336. Tel: (209) 825-1311.

    November 12, 2000 - News of the Week



    E-mail your comments to (More contact information is below.)

    We agree with Washington State activist Stacie Larson, who says we need to "holler loudly when the media get it right." A prime example, says Stacie, is a recent episode of the CBS series, "Diagnosis Murder" (Thursday, November 2)

    A brief sketch of the plot:

    A filthy, incoherent man was brought into the emergency room of the hospital where Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) works. With difficulty, Dr. Sloan recognized the man as "George," a brilliant and creative former medical student he had taught. George was experiencing a psychotic episode of paranoid schizophrenia.

    There was a murder committed, and George was framed for it and arrested. Dr. Sloan doubted that George had actually done the deed. Sloan discovers and confronts the real villain, who then commits suicide. With no evidence to convict the actual killer, the D.A. will prosecute George, who can be convicted on the planted evidence.

    While George is in jail, his cellmate begins to gasp for air. George saves the suffocating man's life by summoning a guard and instructing him how to perform a tracheotomy.

    In the end, George's name is cleared, and he leaves with the medicine that will help clear his mind ("only meds" seems authentic). Stacie points out that the episode shows a mentally ill person as victimized rather than villainous. It also shows that ability, brilliance, and concern for others remain part of the individual, despite the havoc of the illness. While there were a few "Hollywood sensationalisms" in the episode, on the whole it was a respectful and plausible portrayal of devastating illness and society's failure to cope with that illness.

    Both CBS and Viacom Productions should be
    thanked. CBS decides which TV series survive. Viacom Productions, the creator of "Diagnosis Murder," has looked beyond the stereotype.


    There are two choices for sending E-MAIL:

    CBS Viewer Information,
    CBS Feedback, (click "Choose a CBS..," scroll down to "Diagnosis Murder," then scroll to bottom for the Feedback form)

  • Leslie Moonves
    President & Chief Officer
    CBS Television
    7800 Beverly Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    Tel: 323-575-2345

  • David F. Poltrack
    Executive Vice-President
    Research & Planning
    51 West 52nd Street
    New York, NY 10019-6188
    Tel: 212-975-4321

  • Ms. Chris Abbott
    Viacom Productions
    7700 Balboa Boulevard
    Van Nuys, CA 91406
    Tel: 818-756-1260
    Fax: 818-901-7799
  • November 5, 2000 - News of the Week


    A Callous New York City Policy Is Reversed by the Court

    It is New York City's practice to discharge jailed mentally ill inmates onto the street, thumbing its nose at compassion, common sense, logic, and civic responsibility. Thanks to a court decision, the city may now be required to provide inmates with continuing mental health treatment and housing.

    What possible defense can the city have for dumping inmates? Where is the public's outrage at this bizarre policy? Where is activists' outrage at the lack of housing and treatment programs?

    Below is a brief news item from the New York Times:

    by Nina Bernstein, The New York Times, Metro Briefing, November 3, 2000.
    The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed that the city must stop releasing mentally ill inmates without any plans to provide them with housing and treatment for their illnesses. Lawyers for the city have been discussing a possible settlement but said yesterday that no decision had been made about another appeal. The plaintiffs include inmates who received treatment behind bars but were repeatedly released between 2 and 6 a.m. with a $3 MetroCard and $1.50 in cash. Their lawyers estimate that as many as 20,000 inmates each year need continuing mental-health treatment.

    October 29, 2000 - News of the Week

    ITEM 1:


    In store windows this week, "psycho-slasher" masks compete with traditional Halloween gear. Every year, more youngsters' costumes imitate the teenage killer in the bloody movie favorite, "SCREAM."

    This lurid addition to the traditional Halloween assortment of ghosts, witches, and monsters stems from the "psychotic" murderers that have become a common denominator in horror movies for teens: "Halloween," "Nightmare on Elm Street, "Friday the 13th," "Scream," and long list of sequels and spinoffs.

    Exactly five years ago, Patricia McLaughlin, a syndicated columnist, explored the movie-based linking of evil and mental illness. Her still-timely article is reprinted below:

    When Monsters Reflect Our Fears of Mental Illness

    by Patricia McLaughlin
    The Philadelphia Inquirer
    October 29, 1995

    They don't trouble our sleep the rest of the year, but Halloween raises them from their celluloid graves, and once again they haunt suburban cul de sacs and city sidewalks: awful Jason and his crazy mom from Friday the 13th, frenzied Freddy Kreuger from Nightmare on Elm Street, maniacal Michael Meyers from Halloween.

    Sure, they're only make-believe -- but what other images of mental illness do kids see?

    These movies -- like the Technicolor rubber masks that bring their loony villains to life again each Halloween -- are geared to teenagers. And, by unlucky coincidence, it's between the ages of 16 and 25 that major psychiatric illnesses -- schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder, major depression -- are most likely to develop.

    "So when they strike," Nora Weinerth says, "that's the stereotype kids have, so the last thing they want to do is go to the hospital. Go to the 'loony bin'? No way."

    According to Weinerth, co-founder of the National Stigma Clearinghouse, which campaigns for accurate portrayals of mental illness in the media, schizophrenia strikes one out of 100 Americans -- "as many as diabetes," she says, "and manic-depression is also as common as diabetes." She says depression will disable 1 in 15.

    Common as major mental illness is, it's striking, she says,"how little the mainstream knows about schizophrenia -- yet how commonly used as slurs are words like schizo and psycho. One result: "Many Americans prefer death to treatment. . . . One in 10 Americans hit with these illnesses commits suicide."

    If the typical media picture of a mental hospital dissuades some from seeking treatment, it likewise makes life difficult for those who obtain it. A person recovering from mental illness, aware that Freddy Krueger is most people's idea of a mental patient, will think twice before discussing his own recent illness in a job interview. (Despite what the TLA Video Guide praises as Nightmare on Elm Street's "inventive premise of this villain having escaped from his victims' minds rather than from the local isame asylum.")

    How did the stereotypic bogeyman who haunts our nightmares and our horror movies end up being a mental patient? Partly it's because we no longer have a working definition of evil. We don't believe in wickedness anymore, so when somebody does something really terrible, we figure they must be "crazy," whatever that means. Most Americans don't believe in witches or vampires or ghosts or evil spirits, and many have learned that it's wrong to blame the Jews, the Catholics, etc. Deprived of the traditional bogeys, we've assigned "psychotics" to pick up the slack.

    A study at Penn's Annenberg School of Communication found that mentally characters were both the most violent and the most victimized of all groups on TV. The media stereotype of hateful, violent "maniacs" is hurtful to people struggling to recover from mental illness, Joseph Rogers says. But Rogers, deputy executive director of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and a leader in the national movement to assure the civil rights of present and former mental patients, says hurt feelings are only the beginning. The violent-maniac stereotype makes everything harder -- finding housing, finding a job, finding friends. And "it boils over into the political debate, so that when we want to establish community residences, or assure former mental patients the right to employment, people feel it's OK to discriminate against us." Nobody wants Freddy Krueger in his backyard.

    Which, according to Otto Wahl, a psychologist at George Mason University and author of Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness (Rutgers University Press), eventually translates into social policy that puts "the needs of people with psychiatric disorders low on the totem pole" when it comes to funding for health care, social services, and research.

    It's a vicious circle: A better understanding of and more effective treatment for mental illness would go a long way to dispel the stigma -- but the stigma derails funding for the research that might produce those discoveries.

    If that depresses you, you may be perfctly sane. If there is such a thing.

    ITEM 2:


    A leading character in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," has recently been discharged from a mental institution and experiencs a screeching, head-banging, padded-cell flashback, according to a New York Times critic. It seems that the Hollywood "psycho trough" continues to attract movie-makers.

    October 15, 2000

    A TRIBUTE TO KEN STEELE. Please click link just below.

    September 17, 2000 - News of the Week

    A SON LEARNS ABOUT PREJUDICE, by Ken Schraiber. Please click just below.

    September 10, 2000 - News, of the Week


    The Fall crop of TV shows will soon be on view. It remains to be seen how many feature stereotypic "villains with psychiatric disorders" in violent drama series, and "cardboard crazies" in comedy sitcoms.

  • September 10 is the premiere date of Court TV's low-budget brainchild, Confessions, featuring the actual videotaped confessions of convicted criminals, tapes of crime scenes (some recreated), and the defendant's sentences.

    Critics' previews raise ethical and legal questions about the program, in addition to questions about the show's intent. We are also concerned about bias. The first program features criminals with psychiatric histories. Is this bias a feature of the 13 weekly programs?

    A distorted picture of who commits homicide, plus widespread confusion about the distinction between "psychotic" and "psychopathic," produces misinformed viewers. Court TV wants to hear your comments.

    Contact information:

    Henry Schleiff, Chairman & Chief Executive
    Court TV
    600 Third Avenue, 2nd Floor
    New York, N:Y 10016
    Tel: 212-973-2800
    Viewer Comment: 800-court56

  • On Fridays, on ABC-TV, starting October 6, The Trouble With Normal. This comedy is described as being about two "paranoid" characters and an equally paranoid neighbor who go to a therapist.

    Contact information:

    77 West 66th Street
    New York, NY 10023
    Tel: 212-456-7777

  • Beginning October 3, on FOX-TV, Titus will move to Tuesdays and continue to offend many viewers with its "comic" references to a violent mother in a mental institution.

    Contact information:

    10201 West Pico Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90035
    Tel: 310-369-1000
  • September 3, 2000 - News of the Week


    Hollywood-style violence requires that villains deserve to be punished. "It's a way of making violence acceptable," explains screen author/director Christopher McQuarrie in an interview about a new crime film, "The Way of the Gun" (New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sept 3,

    "The Way of the Gun," as described by the Times, is about two "sociopaths" and a bloody kidnapping. We don't yet know if the sociopaths are mentally ill.

    What we do know is that violent entertainment has warped the public's understanding of mental illness. All too often, villains are depicted as having a psychiatric or pseudo-psychiatric condition.

    The "bad guys" of past generations -- Nazis, Communists, Japanese -- have long been obsolete. And anti-defamation activists have reduced the stereotyping of many groups, leaving mental illness as one of the few remaining sources of villainous characters.

    For over two decades, media researcher George Gerbner has studied cultural values as they are represented by the heros and villains in popular entertainment. His most recent survey of 6,882 dramatic TV roles from 1994-1997 found that characters portrayed as having mental illness are by far the most dangerous and criminal of the groups surveyed. While the other groups (Native American, White Male, Latin/Hispanic, African American, Asian Pacific, and White Female) were violent in around 20 percent of their roles, characters depicted as mentally ill were violent in 60 percent of their roles.

    What can be done? The mental health community must insist on realistic, balanced portrayals of mental illness in popular entertainment. The first step should be a moratorium on violent roles for mentally ill characters.

    August 13, 2000 - News of the Week


    The statement, "There are 1,000 murders each year by people with untreated schizophrenia and manic-depression," has appeared in a number of major publications and national news broadcasts.

    If true, this would mean that a minuscule segment of the U.S. population (.5 of 1 percent) is committing over 6 percent of the nation's murders.

    But this statement is not substantiated. A Department of Justice study cited as the source of the statement does not provide data about diagnosis or treatment, according to its author, Dr. Patrick Langan.

    The statement is part of a national push for court-ordered medication led by E. Fuller Torrey and D. J. Jaffe, founders of the Treatment Advocacy Center. At the 1999 convention of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Mr. Jaffe, an advertising executive, advised forced-treatment advocates to use the argument that stronger commitment laws are necessary to protect the public from "dangerous" mentally ill people.

    This is a new wrinkle in advocacy. No other disability group has exaggerated the violence of its members in order to pass coercive laws against them. Not advocates for people with diabetes, who may harm themselves or others when insulin shock causes blackout. Not advocates for people with Alzheimers', whose behavior may be threatening. Not the advocates for people with AIDS dementia or Huntington's disease or autism or developmental disabilities. Only advocates for people with mental illness, it seems, frame their arguments in terms of danger to the public.

    There is some objective data that may help establish the truth about violence. Uniform Crime Reports are issued annually by the Department of Justice in an effort to improve the training and safety programs of law enforcement officers nationwide. According to the DOJ's latest report (1998), murder and assault by "mentally deranged" people are at the bottom of the dangerous-situation list. They rank just above "civil disorders," posing a negligible danger to police officers.

    Over 10 years (1989-1998), "mentally deranged" individuals accounted for only 1.6 percent of all homicides of police officers, and only 1.5 percent of all assaults. Furthermore, in the period from 1989-1998, there was no escalation in violence by "mentally deranged" individuals against police officers.

    We welcome your comments. E-mail

    August 6, 2000 - News of the Week


    With familiar eloquence, a Washington Post opinion piece by E. Fuller Torrey and Mary T. Zdanowicz capitalizes on a widely-publicized homicide to promote court-ordered psychotropic medication (August 1).

    Veteran advocates may remember Dr. Torrey's equally impassioned pleas, in 1986, for "passage in each state of a bill of rights that guarantees minimum standards of care." Since then, Torrey's position has swiveled 180 degrees. Now he calls for stiff laws that punish patients for decades of neglect by a dysfunctional system.

    Involuntary outpatient commitment deserves examination. But research on the issue to date has not found that court-ordered treatment works better than high-quality programs. Yet for the past decade, based on their assumptions and convictions, the forced-treatment advocates have worked hard for policies that are unproven, divisive, and potentially counter-productive.

    Clarence J. Sundram, who for 20 years chaired the New York State Commission on Quality of Care, a mental health watchdog agency, made this assessment: "The focus of coercion upon the patient is, I submit, a misdirection of energy. Coercion is needed, but to enforce the laws already on the books that are routinely disregarded with impunity, either because of the scarcity of resources or because of conflicting pressures."

    July 30, 2000 - News of the Week


    The federal agency responsible for overseeing and supporting the nation's mental health policies, the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), is distributing free posters, brochures, and fact sheets that promote a realistic, positive image of people who have psychiatric disabilities.

    The CMHS has assembled a free kit of useful materials, including:

  • A poster with the message: "Know me as a person, not by my mental illness"

  • A brochure with the message: "Before you label people, look at their contents"

  • An Anti-Stigma Fact Sheet.

  • A brochure, "Your Child's Mental Health..."

  • An anti-stigma order form

  • And more...


    CALL 1-800-789-2647

    FAX 1-301-984-8796

    Or visit the KEN Web site at WWW.MENTALHEALTH.ORG/STIGMA
  • July 23, 2000 - News of the Week


    Many people who call or e-mail us for information say that Internet search engines are not very useful for research on the stigmatization of mental illness. Our Stigma Home Page -- now one year old -- is intended to help students, presenters, and interested others, to find Web sites and information that they may not find in their mainstream searches.

    Most of our "LINKS for Stigmabusters" are Web sites based in the U.S. However, over the past ten years there have been anti-stigma campaigns by private and government mental health organizations around the world, from Canada to Australia and New Zealand. Those with Web sites are based in Canada, Australia, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and New Zealand (see below).

    In general, campaigns outside the U.S. emphasize the human side of mental illness, demystifying the conditions, disability rights, and social inclusion. In 1995, three thousand members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Great Britain signed a petition that criticized media coverage of mental illness and presented it to key leaders of the British national media.

    We suggest that any in-depth search for stigma information should include checking the following Web sites (listed in no particular order) based outside the U.S. Each site will offer further useful links.

  • The Schizophrenia Society of Canada

  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists
    Changing Minds campaign
    Online texts of official RCP journals
    Recent studies:Stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses, Crisp et al. BJP (2000) 177:4-7; How mental illness is portrayed in children's television, Wilson et al. BJP (2000) 176: 440-443.

  • MIND - England
    Recent studies: Creating Accepting Communities, see press release Nov.4, 99; Negative reporting has increased mental health problems..., see press releases Jul 7, 99.

  • CYMRU - Wales

    ( Scroll to "Discover Mind Cymru"

  • Scottish Association for Mental Health

  • Irish Association for Mental Health

  • Mental Health Foundation (UK)


    Recent studies: Survey Pull Yourself Together, released Apr.25, 2000.

  • Mental Health Foundation (NZ)


  • Mental Health Council of Australia


  • Open the Doors campaign


  • World Federation for Mental Health


    An excellent source for more links

  • World Health Organization
    Back to Top

  • July 16, 2000 - News of the Week



    Over the weekend, the stigmatizing tagline, "From Gentle to Mental," was missing from some ads for ME, MYSELF & IRENE. For months, this catchy phrase was inescapable in a massive ad campaign for the film, along with Jim Carrey's "split" face -- half sweet, half threatening.

    Let us hope that 20th Century Fox has switched the focus of their ad campaign. If marketers promote the film worldwide without linking schizophrenia to violence, advocates will rejoice -- and can take credit.

    Kudos to everyone involved: the international protests from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere, channeled by the National Mental Health Association; the letter-writing campaign spurred by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill; and the local protests that joined advocates across the country.

    Several perceptive reviews of the film have been forwarded to us. We pass along two of them.

    Click here for an article in the The Toronto Star ,

    Below is an article for The Oregonian, (printed with permission.) Thanks to Stacie and Herb Larson for forwarding it. Published online, June 27, 2000,

    "Comedy That Wounds Isn't Funny"
    , editorial columnist

    Jim Carrey's Silly Putty face is to comedy what Yo-Yo Ma's cello is to music. Their instruments go places that few others reach.

    But Carrey degrades his tool by the task he puts it to in the new movie, "Me, Myself & Irene."

    Carrey plays a state trooper with multiple personalties. One day he fails to take his medication. His personalities go to war against each other, each vying for a woman named Irene (Renee Zellweger). Carrey's personalities include Charlie, a gentle and sentimental police officer, and Hank, an obnoxious and aggressive womanizer.

    Mental illness, AIDS and cancer are not off-limits to humor even though getting advocacy groups to see anything funny in often-tragic conditions are as rare as a Rottweiler/rabbit romance. Selective emphasis, clever exaggeration, skillful juxtaposition of the absurd and the ordinary, the gifted stripping of illusion and half-truths can be enlightening without being frightening, even on delicate life subjects.

    So the issue is not that Carrey's movie exploits mental illness for laughs. The issue is that the film misrepresents mental illness in ways that will cause or increase harm.

    That isn't funny.

    Advocacy groups' howls deserve attention this time because the film perpetuates myths that stigmatize the mentally ill, isolate them socially and reduce their chances to get jobs, rent living space and enter educational and vocational training programs.

    That's serious business in Oregon, where Multnomah County and the state are studying how to reconfigure their mental health systems to overcome precisely these problems. The movie's myths will reinforce prejudices that make the changes difficult.

    The film's storyline and marketing confuse schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder [a very rare condition], reinforce the greatly exaggerated perception that people with mental illness are dangerous, and portray schizophrenia, its symptoms and treatments as a joke.

    The movie's tagline, "From Gentle to Mental," equates mental illness with violence. One of Carrey's personalities is portrayed as assaultive and evil. Twentieth Century Fox marketers distributed white jelly-bean "pills" that supposedly cure schizophrenia. The bottle's label warns that side effects include "genital elephantiasis."

    The movie is not an unusual misstep. Mentally ill characters in U.S. prime-time television are depicted as the most dangerous of all demographic groups, with 60 percent shown to be involved in crime or violence (three [to 4 1/2] times the average rate), according to a report for the Screen Actors' Guild.

    Derisive language and stereotypic images about mental illness used in children's programming are shaping the attitudes and vocabulary of children under 10 years old in many English-speaking countries, says a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

    The U.S. surgeon general reported in December that Americans increasingly, and inaccurately, link mental illness and dangerous violence, even though the "overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." Most striking is that there is very little risk of violence or harm to a stranger from casual contact with an individual who has a mental disorder.

    As the population of state and county mental hospitals fell from a high of 560,000 in 1955 to well below 100,000 by the 1990's, distancing of people with mental disorders from the rest of the citizenry has become impossible. So when movies like "Me, Myself & Irene" or media accounts stigmatize mental illness, cruel and unfair results ripple through every community.

    The stigmas result in discrimination and abuse, lead to low self-esteem and hopelessness and deter the public from wanting to pay for suitable care.

    Carrey does wring some laughs from stupid and tasteless material. Leaving the theater, though, I wondered: Where's the comedy in further gouging the wounds of victims?

    by Robert Landauer
    - End of article from THE OREGONIAN -Back to Top

    June 17, 2000 - News of the Week.


    20th Century Fox Marketing Campaign Ridicules Mental Illness

    A Worldwide Coalition statement appears on the website of the National Mental Health Association, click For further information about the Worldwide Coalition, e-mail

    Check also the information on a website posted by a growing coalition of Canadian Health Care organizations that has banded together to fight the insensitive and hurtful depictions of mental illness in the promotion of ME, MYSELF & IRENE. Click


    Use ME, MYSELF & IRENE as an opportunity to educate.

    Advocates may remember the movie "CRAZY PEOPLE," released in 1990. An advertising blitz proclaimed, "WARNING: CRAZY PEOPLE ARE COMING." Gimmicks, like free tickets for people who "could prove they were crazy," added to the insult. (Actually, the movie was about the ad world.)

    The National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse in Philadelphia used the offensive campaign as an opportunity to educate the community. They passed out leaflets stating their concerns to movie-goers outside the theater. They went to the newspapers, which then ran positive stories about efforts to change the damaging slogan.

    ME, MYSELF & IRENE presents a similar opportunity. A much better one, in fact, since this time the film itself misrepresents and ridicules mental illness. Below is an updated version of the Philadelphia leaflet. We hope this will inspire advocates who wish to respond constructively to the Jim Carrey comedy. Feel free make changes and add local contact information.


    All over town, billboards picture Jim Carrey as a "split personality," and equate "mental" with dangerous. TV ads show him as a violent "schizo."

    We who have mental illness, our friends, and our families, are outraged by this advertising campaign for the movie, ME, MYSELF & IRENE. Its clear message is that we are violent.

    THIS IS NOT TRUE. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent and don't pose a danger to others. In fact, people with mental illness, including those with schizophrenia, are more often victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

    The advertising for ME, MYSELF & IRENE contributes to the stigma that we face every day, which translates into social and economic discrimination. ME, MYSELF & IRENE is a comedy, but there is nothing funny about being denied a job or an apartment or equal employment because you have a psychiatric history.

    People with mental illness have been organizing around these issues:

  • The right to be consulted and listened to concerning our own treatment

  • The right to controversial information about treatment

  • The right to treatment in the community

  • The right to live free from stigma, which affects us in every area of our lives -- economically, socially and psychologically

  • People who have mental illnesses can live productive lives in the community. We are living proof.


    * Educate the public

    *Provide employment

    *Educate your legislators

    (Scroll down for more information about


    June 11, 2000 - News of the Week



    Join the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in their strong protest of ME, MYSELF & IRENE, a comedy soon to appear in theaters nationwide. (See NEWS 6/4/00.)

    This week NAMI posted on its web site a three-pronged ALERT calling for nationwide anti-stigma action. We urge the circulation of this information throughout the 60-million-strong mental health community.

    Click , then scroll down to past alerts, click "June 6," for information about Fox's defamatory advertising campaign, the contact addresses for Fox Films, a press release, recommended talking points, and an excellent NAMI letter to Fox Films Chairman Bill Mechanick.

    June 4, 2000 - News of the Week


    Would a Hollywod movie do this to any other disability?

    In Me, Myself & Irene, a state trooper with a so-called split personality skips his medication one morning and all heck breaks loose.

    Welcome to a new Jim Carrey comedy, where a nasty character the public doesn't want to know, employ, or live next door to is labeled with mental illness.

    The movie confuses split or multiple personality with schizophrenia, two very different conditions, and incorrectly shows medication being used to treat multiple personality disorder.

    The 60-million-strong mental health community has begun to mobilize against this insulting summer film. The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) has issued a STIGMA ALERT, including a fact sheet and recommendations for action.

    We suggest:
  • Request a copy of the STIGMA ALERT by contacting the NMHA, tel: 703-838-7538, or e-mail To join the ALERT list, click

  • To receive the NMHA ALERT from the National Stigma Clearinghouse. Click We will forward the alert by e-mail, or, if you give us your address we'll mail it.

  • Get information about the film, the reactions of audience and critics, and other details, from the Internet Movie Database. Click Then go to the lefthand list, and look under "coming soon."

  • Write to the producer, Me, Myself & Irene, 20th Century Fox, 10201 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035, Tel: 310-369-1000.

  • Check the movie's website by clicking

  • E-mail your views to 20th Century Fox

  • Write to the film's directors, Bobby and Peter Farrelly c/o 20th Century Fox (address above). It is unlikely that they fully realize the harm they do in promoting misinformation and ridicule.

    Back to Top

  • May 28, 2000 - News of the Week


    Needed: Understanding of What Causes Prejudice

    The very first page of U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher's landmark report on mental Illness (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, December 1999) cites stigma as the most formidable obstacle to progress in the arena of mental illess and health. The report index lists 37 separate references to stigma, exceeded only by barriers to treatment (39 references).

    As the mental health community begins to implement the report's recommendations, it needs to know more about the root causes of stigma and how it is perpetuated.

    Researchers in the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, are producing useful new data to help us sort out the sources of stigma and to chart our anti-stigma actions. It is becoming clear that public education alone cannot accomplish the task.

    A new study published in the May issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry (see News, May 21, on this website) gives evidence of overt stigmatization by the children's entertainment industry. The researchers, Claire Wilson et al, University of Auckland, New Zealand, call their findings preliminary and in need of replication. They also call for further research to assess children's understanding of terminology and character depictions.

    The New Zealand study is a breath of fresh air, confirming what concerned activists have long known: many cartoons made in the USA teach young children to ridicule and fear people with mental illness. Most disturbing, they are teaching the nation's future policymakers, legislators, judges, law enforcement officers, lawyers, employers, teachers, and doctors, indelible lessons of prejudice.

    Data gathered by a recent General Social Survey show that society is becoming more fearful and less accepting of Americans with mental illnesses. This ominous finding needs more study. For example, advocates need to know the long-term effects of exploiting the violence factor to gain forced treatment laws. (Forced treatment proponents claim such emphasis on violence to get policy changes actually reassures the public. But what if they are wrong--and we believe they are.)

    The total research literature on stigma would make a slim volume. Given the issue's importance to all of the goals of the mental health community, stigma deserves immediate attention from those who oversee research priorities.

    To download the New Zealand study, click

    May 21, 2000 - News of the Week

    A study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry (the May issue) gives anti-stigma activists important information about the routine stigmatization of "crazy" in children's entertainment.

    Researchers at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, examined 128 episodes (58 hours) of television programming produced in the United States and New Zealand for audiences under the age of 10. Nearly one-half of the episodes contained at least one reference to mental illness; all of these were negative or comic. There were no positive features attributed to the the mentally ill characters.

    Special thanks to Ann Madigan, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, for bringing this important study to our attention.

    For more information:

    A National Stigma Clearinghouse Press Release is posted below. Anti-stigma activists are welcome to use the release, either as is or an adapted version. Please let us know if it was useful, and any results. Click

    To download the study, click

    For an excellent Reuters article, "Children's TV Stigmatizes Mental Illness," go to the website of the Knowledge Exchange Network. Click then click News Room. Scroll down to May 22, Reuters

    To reach the British Journal of Psychiatry, go to the website of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Click, then click Publications

    MAY 26, 2000
    Contact: Jean Arnold, 212-255-4411


    American Cartoons By Far the Biggest Source
    of Stigmatizing Material

    A study appearing in The British Journal of Psychiatry (the May issue) gives important new data about the routine stigmatization of mental illness in children's TV programming. Release of the study underscores a call to action from U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher to eradicate the barriers of stigma that plague Americans with psychiatric disorders. (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, December 1999.)

    The National Stigma Clearinghouse hails the report for exposing the derisive language and stereotypic images that are shaping the attitudes and vocabulary of children under t0 years old in many English-speaking countries. Mental illness was mentioned in nearly one-half the episodes examined, and these references were almost exclusively negative. "Cartoons, by far the worst offenders, plant prejudice that lasts a lifetime. We hope the study will alert the children's entertainment industry to the problem," said Jean Arnold, chair of the Clearinghouse.

    The researchers sampled one complete week of children's television (58 hours, 128 episodes). Sixty percent of the episodes were produced in the United States. Most of the cartoons -- accounting for 83.5 percent of all refrences to mental illness -- were made in the USA (22 out of 27 titles). Comic "insane" characters acted or spoke irrationally and amused the other characters with their speech and actions. Villainous "insane" characters were obsessive, initiated evil ideas, and attempted murder. The researchers report that they did not find any positive features attributed to mentally ill characters, or any understanding of the suffering of mental ilness.

    The study, "How Mental Illness is Portrayed in Children's Television," by Claire Wilson et al, University of Auckland, New Zealand, is AVAILABLE ONLINE on the website of the Royal College of Psychiatrists,

    The National Stigma Clearinghouse provides information about stigma to the mental health community, the media, and concerned members of the general public.
    Back to Top

    April 30, 2000 - News of the Week


    Two recent reviews of research literature concerning violence and mental illness are available on the Internet. "Survey of Scientific Studies Demonstrating Connection Between Violence and Untreated Severe Mental Illness" appears on the website of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) headed by E. Fuller Torrey: Click "General Resources," then Medical Studies.

    "Criminalization of the Mentally Ill," by Virginia A. Hiday, a leading researcher, is excerpted from A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems, edited by Allan V. Horwitz and Teresa L. Scheid, Cambridge University Press 1999. Dr. Hiday's report is available on Click "New This Month" (April).

    The only way to assess the information is by studying the documents. However, below are a few observations.

    The TAC begins by stating that the two major clinical predictors of violent behavior are past history of violence and substance abuse. TAC goes on to propose a third clinical predictor, stating, "Recent studies have established that being severely mentally ill and not taking medication is a third major predictor of volent behavior." Of the 31 studies TAC cites to demonstrate this connection, however, only six appear to address the issue of medication.

    Hiday has combed 285 research studies on topics such as mental illness and the criminal justice system, police practices, arrest data, diversion, dangerous behavior, and commnity programs for former offenders, to present a concise overview of study findings. Hiday clearly identifies as her own views any interpretations which are not stated in the research studies she cites.

    TAC, in an effort to substantiate its often-repeated claim that untreated mentally ill people commit 1,000 homicides per year, cites a 1994 Department of Justice study by Dawson & Langan which found that 4.3% of the homicides in 33 large urban counties (in 19 states) in 1988 were committed by people reported to have histories of mental illness. (It seems unusual that 44% of the homicide victims had criminal records.)

    TAC applied the 4.3% murder rate to total U.S. homicides for 1988 (20,860) arriving at 897 slayings by mentally ill people for 1988. Although the DOJ study provided no data on diagnosis or treatment. TAC states its assumption that non-treatment was a factor in most of the 897 homicides. If we apply TAC's highly questionable method of calculation to current homicide rates, the number of slayings by people "with histories of [unspecified] mental illness" is less than 700, not 1,000.

    Hiday identifies subgroups of arrested individuals (many with co-existing substance abuse disorders): those who have identifiable severe or psychotic mental illnesses, those who have character disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, and those who meet broad definitions for less severe mental illnesses. Hiday also points to the difference between criminalization, a term which holds society responsible for forcing individuals who need treatment into the criminal justice system by default, and criminality, a belief that mentally ill persons are dangerous and likely to commit crimes, especially violent crimes.

    One-third (10) of TAC's thirty-one research citations refer to European studies. This raises the question of whether European definitions, standards,and methods in any way affect our understanding or TAC's interpretation of European research results.>
    Disparities between TAC's summaries of cited studies and the information published in the studies is often extreme. This leads us to question TAC's interpretations of data.

    For example, TAC describes a Martell, Deitz study of subway pushers as follows: "Among 20 individuals who pushed or tried to push another person in front of the subway in New York, all except one was severely mentally ill and offered motives directly related to their untreated psychotic symptoms." This summary is blatantly deceptive.

    The Martell/Deitz study deliberately focused on 19 psychotic individuals who were selected from among 49 subway pushers. The researchers looked at data spanning 17 years and found record of 49 incidents involving 52 victims during this period.

    We reprint the article abstract: "Of the 36 perpetrators who acted alone, 25 (69%) were referred for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, as was one member of an offending gang. Data concerning 20 of these 26 offenders and their crimes were collected at the time of the offense. 19 (95%) were psychotic, and 13 (65%) were homeless. Most of these offenders had extensive histories of psychiatric hospitalization and several prior arrests and convictions, often for violent crimes. The offenders had extensive mental health and criminal histories [emphasis added]. The victims of these crimes were always strangers. Half of the offenders killed or seriously injured victims. Since 1986, the incidence of this offense has increased, and offenders accounting for the increase are mostly psychotic and homeless." (Archives of General Psychiatry. 1992;49:472-475.)


    ABC-TV's Audience Information Manager,Paul Weicker, has responded to protest letters about Wonderland, the now-cancelled television series set in a psychiatric emergency room. Weicker quotes Peter Berg, Wonderland's creator, as having seen the show as a opportunity to "de-stigmatize mental illness and make it accessible to the lay-person."

    Weicker's letter also asserts that Berg originally intended that a Public Service Announcement should be shown at the end of each show to disclaim that mentally ill people are dangerous.

    If these were Peter Berg's genuine concerns, it is all the more puzzling that he chose forensic emergencies to convey the message. Early consultation with psychiatric survivors could perhaps have helped Berg find the angle he needed to conceive a truly superb series.

    Survivors' comments received by the National Stigma Clearinghouse uniformly dismissed the show, calling it unrealistic and unrepresentative.

    Below, Marc Ross Miller, a mental health activist in Long Island, New York, replies to the letter he received from Paul Weicker:

    Dear Mr. Weicker: Thank you for your response to my letter regarding "Wonderland." I am relieved that it has been cancelled from your primetime schedule.

    It seems to me that Peter Berg and ABC contradicted itself by placing the "special Public Service Announcement" (PSA) at the end of the second episode, only after a terribly violent act is committed by a "mentally ill" person in the first episode. It seems to me that if ABC and Peter Berg had been sincere in communicating the message that "the vast majority of mentally ill persons are not violent and pose no threat to the community..." then such a message would have been disseminated before, not after, a mass audience had the images of violence committed by a "mentally ill" person projected before their eyes and ears. Indeed, had Peter Berg been sincere in his attempt to "de-stigmatize" mental illness, then the acts of violence portrayed on "Wonderland" never would have been shown.

    As far as Peter Berg's words that "Wonderland" was " opportunity to educate and de-stigmatize mental illness and make it accessible to the layperson" : it was an opportunity, and Peter Berg and ABC failed. I saw "mentally ill" people portrayed as violent. Take, for example, the multiple shooting committed by a "mentally ill" man in the first episode. I saw "mentally ill" people portrayed as trash. Take for example, the mother of a mentally ill person who had her finger bitten off and then swallowed by her "mentally ill" son in the first episode. How do images such as these "de-stigmatize" mental illness?

    Peter Berg and ABC re-articulated outworn, outdated, and wholly inaccurate images of the "mentally ill." If the intent was to "de-stigmatize" mental illness, then "Wonderland" failed.

    Once again, thank you for your response. Sincerely, Marc Ross Miller

    Back to Top

    April 16, 2000 - News



    In a last-minute move, 15 national mental health organizations joined the denunciation of "Wonderland," ABC-TV's new hospital series set in a psychiatric emergency room. The concerted effort clinched the cancellation of the show. Congratulations to everyone who took part! Each and every voice played an important role.


    "American Psycho" is about a serial killer, not a person with mental illness. It is the word "psycho" that inflicts damage on the mental health community.

    Slang words for "mentally ill" rarely connote dangerousness. The Thesaurus of Slang (Lewin, 1988) lists 150 slang words for "crazy." The only word in this long list that implies violence is "psycho."

    We protested the title in 1991 when the book, "American Psycho," was published, calling it stigmatizing and misleading. Now that the book has returned in a film version, just how damaging is it likely to be? (See the New York Times review, 4/14/00, Stephen Holden, Movies.)

    Most critics panned the book, agreeing that it was the bizarre fantasy of an immature author. Like "Silence of the Lambs," the sheer scale of its absurdity may render it harmless to real people. Unlike "Silence of the Lambs," however, "American Psycho's" title is a constant reminder of psychiatric disability. The public doesn't need to see the movie to be affected by a publicity campaign for "American Psycho."

    The word "psycho" means both "psychopathic" and "psychotic," according to dictionaries. For the public, the important distinction between these two very different conditions is often lost. (To help remedy this, in 1990 Otto Wahl explained the difference in a brief paper, "Psychotic vs. Pschopathic: Getting the Terms Straight." See Otto's Home Page, click You'll find it under Resource Guide for Stigmabusters, Brochures and Handouts.

    "Psycho" has been synonymous with "homicidal" since Alfred Hitchcock created Norman Bates in 1960. Bates, although not defined in Hitchcock's film as mentally ill, has become firmly rooted in the mainstream of American popular culture as a symbol of "mentally ill predator." For forty years, the psycho-image has attracted product manufacturers, television and movie producers, and obviously, the author of "American Psycho."

    We suggest:

  • Activists should closely monitor the advertising campaign for "American Psycho," both in the print and broadcast media.

  • Make plans now to demand the withdrawal of any advertising that connects "American Psycho" with mental illness.


    In a 4-part front-page series, The Times devoted six full pages to rampage murders, a phenomenon that accounts for one-tenth of one percent of all murders -- about 34 per year. About 17 of those annual deaths are caused by people who have psychiatric histories. Yet The Times filled many pages describing cases involving mentally ill assailants, leaving readers mostly clueless about other "rampage killers" who are in fact more numerous.

    A major fault of the Times series was its failure to place mass murder in a larger context, such as the incidence of rampage murder in other countries where rapid-fire weapons are less accessible. The number of annual fatalities from causes like falls (16,600), drowning (4,100), accidental poisoning (8,100) would also have given a fairer picture of mass murder as a very minor public safety issue.

    "48 HOURS," on CBS-TV on April 12, was an hour-long argument for forced medication. The important question about how well forced-medication actually works was not asked. There was no exploration of adverse effects, and the one-hour program gave about 30 seconds to viable alternatives to forced treatment. What viewers did see, and what no one would question for a moment, is the terrible suffering that violence brings to everyone involved.

    We suggest that key members of the mental health community address the lack of balance in both the "48 HOURS'" program and the New York Times series.

    Back to Top

    April 9, 2000 - News of the Week


    "Rampage Killers Chart a Well-marked Course to Their Unraveling" Those with histories of mental illness cause about 17 deaths per year

    A New York Times 4-part series on "Rampage Killers," launched on Sunday, April 9, attempts to replace opinions and hype with what is actually known about multiple murderers. After scouring 50 years of records, the Times investigators found 425 victims of mass homicide.

    The first article of the Times series is crammed with food for thought. It provokes several quick observations.
  • Contrary to the popular assumption that mass murders are the work of people with mental illness, of the 102 "rampage killers" recorded over a span of 50 years, only 25 were diagnosed with mental illness before the murderous incident; another 23 were diagnosed in hindsight. (Troubling questions about mis-diagnosed schizophrenia in earlier decades will perhaps be examined later in the series.)

  • Of the 102 "rampage killers," 24 were individuals who had been prescribed medication for a mental illness. Only 14 of these were not taking their prescribed meds. The fact that 10 out of the 24 diagnosed mentally ill "rampage killers" were taking their medication surely calls into question any quick-fix solutions based on medication.

  • Easy access to rapid-fire assault weapons is the underlying factor in mass murders. The focus on mentally ill assailants, though not irrelevant, does not warrant finger-pointing and the creation of new laws specifically directed at them.

  • People who commit mass murders are always caught, says the Times, mainly because they want to be. They signal their intent in many ways before acting. This series may well heighten public interest in recognizing the precursors of violence.

    The Times series is well worth saving for study. Click For a cut-and-pasted copy of article 1 of the series, e-mail your request to the National Stigma Cleainghouse, Be sure to give us your mailing address.

    April 2, 2000 - News of the Week


    (See below for address lists: Disney/ABC Execs & Wonderland Sponsors)

    Early reactions to ABC-TV's Wonderland are pain, anger, disappointment, a sense of betrayal, and fury at the exploitation for commercial gain. The show's pervasive mood of hopelessness, combined with explicit instructions for suicide, is seen to threaten lives. The grossly exaggerated violence is seen to reinforce prejudice.

    Below is a sampling of comments. First is a positive one, followed by 10 negatives.

  • "There is no ridicule, no stupid jokes at the expense of people who are suffering... [Stigma] is made of lies and silence and groundless assumptions, none of which are evident in this TV series."

  • "How many pregnant women have we seen stabbed on television? 20? 10? 5? 2? How many times on television have we seen a distressed mother who has had her finger removed from her hand and then eaten (removed and eaten by her son)? Pernicious. Inaccurate. Irresponsible. Destructive. These are the words I would use to describe the television show, Wonderland."

  • "It seems to me that this first episode, rather than presenting useful enlightening information about patients and treatment and outdated theories, merely perpetuates the stereotypes that so many people already carry in their heads... Perhaps you have used some knowledgeale resource people. If you did, you either ignored their input or used it out of context."

  • "Your station did more damage by airing that one show than all of the goodwill you have ever provided with fundraisers, telethons and education promotions.. My letter will be posted in my office until this program is no longer on the air, as well as the names of all sponsors who support this type of programming."

  • "Just like every other reality-based drama on TV, Wonderland retains a burnt-out skeleton frame of truth, but mostly it's falsehood and excess, certain to entertain. When I watched preview tapes of the first two episodes it made me terribly, inexpressibly sad. I thought, My God. Is this how people really see me?"

  • The show mis-states statistics on suicide, reversing gender figures. This is inexcusable. Any competent consultant would have caught it.

  • "In this freak show atmosphere, only the staff have lives with a past and future."

  • "There is a gross distortion of facts."

  • "Wonderland poses a potentially dangerous threat to the health and welfare of Americans with mental illnesses and constitutes reckless indifference by the network."

  • "For people who may be seeking treatment, this show will quickly discourage them from doing so."

  • We have just received an answer to our March 9th letter (see March 12 NEWS) to Michael D. Eisner, Chairman of Disney (copies to all ABC execs).

    Chris Hikawa, the head of ABC Standards (the complaint buffer) assures us that "The producers are utilizing expert consultants who have a great deal of experience in dealing with the mentally ill. Each script is reviewed by these consultants."

    Who are the consultants? We will reply to Michael Eisner that until spokespeople for psychiatric survivors (such as Dan Fisher, Vicki Fox Wieselthier, Joe Rogers, Ken Steele, Liz Sikol, to name only a few) are meaningfully involved, we will do all within our power to oppose this show.

    Will ABC continue to show Wonderland? Will there be reruns? Most important, does the mental health community know about Wonderland? Do grassroots members have sufficient information to respond to Disney/ABC executives? (How about the vast numbers of people without E-mail?)

    Nothing less than a massive grassroots barrage of the show's sponsors and ABC, especially the local affiliates, will have an effect.

    Below are:
  • Lists for Disney/ABC executives
  • Wonderland's Sponsors

    Michael D. Eisner, Chairman & CEO
    The Walt Disney Company (owns ABC)
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Tel: 818-560-1000

    Alex Wallau, Interim Head
    ABC-TV Television Network
    77 West 66th Street
    New York, NY 10023
    Tel: 212-456-7777
    Fax: 212-456-4866

    Stuart Blumberg, Chairman
    ABC-TV Entertainment
    2040 Avenue of the Stars
    Los Angeles, CA 90027
    Tel: 310-557-7777
    Fax: 310-557-7170

    Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Chairmen
    Imagine Entertainment (producers)
    9465 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor
    Beverly Hills, CA 90212
    Tel: 310-858-2000
    Fax: 310-858-2011

    Peter Berg (creator of "Wonderland")
    c/o Hostage Productions
    609 Greenwich Street, Suite 9A
    New York, NY 10014
    Tel: 212-905-1701
    Fax: 212-905-1723

    Robert A. Iger, President
    Walt Disney Company
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Fax: 818-560-5960

  • Wonderland's Sponsors (partial)

    Bruce Rohde, Chairman & CEO
    ConAgra Brands
    One ConAgra Drive
    Omaha, NE 68102
    Tel: 402-595-4000
    Fax: 402-595-7294 fax

    Sears Roebuck & Company
    Arthur Martinez, Chairman & CEO
    3333 Beverly Road
    Hoffman Estates, IL 60179
    Tel: 847-286-2500

    Fannie Mae Foundation
    Stacey H. Davis, President & CEO
    4000 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
    North Tower, Suite 1
    Washington, DC 20016
    Tel: 202-274-8000
    Fax: 202-274-8100

    Nissan Motor Corporation
    Nobua Araki, President & CEO
    Box 191
    Gardena, CA 90248
    Tel: 310-532-3111
    Fax: 310-771-3343

    Shannon Lapierre
    500 Staples Drive
    Framingham, MA 01702
    Tel: 508-30-8500
    Fax: 508-253-7788

    Chief Executive Officer
    Novartis Consumer
    560 Morris Avenue
    Summit, NJ 07901
    Tel: 800-635-2801

    Saturn Corporation
    Cynthia Truedell, CEO
    100 Saturn Parkway
    Mail Drop-24
    Spring Hill, TN 37174
    Tel: 931-486-5000

    American Honda Motor Co. Inc.
    Koichi Amemiya, President
    1919 Torrance Boulevard
    Torrance, CA 90501
    Tel: 301-783-2000
    Fax: 301-783-3900

    David Geffen, President
    100 Universal City Plaza
    Universal City, CA 91608
    Tel: 818-733-7000
  • March 26, 2000 - News of the Week


    Stigmatizing TV ads promoting "Wonderland" are bombarding the public, angering members of the mental health community who find them insulting and humiliating. The worry is that the new series, by singling out extreme behavior for sensational effect, will add to prejudice.

    "Wonderland" premieres on ABC on Thursday, March 30, at 10 PM Eastern. Please check local listings.

    For further information, see a review in the New York Times, March 26 Also see earlier entries on this site (scroll down).

    Send your comments to the people responsible for "Wonderland." If you can, send copies to all of the executives listed below.

    Michael D. Eisner, Chairman & CEO
    The Walt Disney Company (owns ABC)
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Tel: 818-560-1000

    Alex Wallau, Interim Head
    ABC-TV Television Network
    77 West 66th Street
    New York, NY 10023
    Tel: 212-456-7777
    Fax: 212-456-4866

    Stuart Blumberg, Chairman
    ABC-TV Entertainment
    2040 Avenue of the Stars
    Los Angeles, CA 90027
    Tel: 310-557-7777
    Fax: 310-557-7170

    Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Chairmen
    Imagine Entertainment (producers)
    9465 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor
    Beverly Hills, CA 90212
    Tel: 310-858-2000
    Fax: 310-858-2011

    Peter Berg (creator of "Wonderland")
    c/o Hostage Productions
    609 Greenwich Street, Suite 9A
    New York, NY 10014
    Tel: 212-905-1701
    Fax: 212-905-1701

    Robert A. Iger, President
    Walt Disney Company
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Fax: 818-560-5960

    For additional information, e-mail

    March 19, 2000 - News of the Week


    On March 30, ABC will launch "Wonderland," a "gritty" emergency room series based on characters in psychiatric crisis.

    Judging from ABC's advance publicity, it appears that violence and criminality will be the most memorable highlights of the series, adding to the already outrageous disproportion in the number of "mentally ill" television characters who are depicted as criminal, violent, or deserving of violence.

    From all accounts, "Wonderland" pushes a stigmatizing television formula to its limit. To focus on rare and extreme behavior of any group as a basis for entertainment is patently unfair and biased, and would not be tolerated by any stereotyped minority. Putting a spotlight week after week on mentally ill people who are in crisis cannot possibly meet standards of balance and accuracy.

    Although an ABC release extols the doctors involved (both the fictional ones and the show's consultants), there is no indication that the true experts, the psychiatric survivors, have been consulted.

    "Wonderland" presents the mental health community with a clear choice: either we continue to accept exploitation or we firmly draw the line. Some activists would argue convincingly that countless other issues are more important than media images. Others would contend that public opinion determines progress on all issues, and because the media shape public opinion, accuracy and balance are crucial.

    In any case, the mental health community has power in its huge numbers to achieve whatever we set out to do. We are much bigger, for example, than the gay and lesbian community, who are making sizable gains in media fairness. Their efforts are posted on the website of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) click

    "Wonderland" will air on March 30th, 10 PM ET (please check local listings).


  • If you belong to a group, begin now to plan your group or individual action.

  • Tape the show, or ask a friend or someone in your group to do it.

  • Review the program for small points. These will slip by on first viewing.

  • Make a list of the sponsors. Save this for possible future action.

  • Let ABC hear from you by e-mail or send letters (use the address list posted under March 5).

  • E-mail your comments to the National Stigma Clearinghouse so we can assess the overall reaction to "Wonderland"

  • For more information about "Wonderland" scroll down to our March 12, March 5, and February 27 entries.

    March 12, 2000 - News of the Week


    Are We Pawns in the TV Ratings Game?

    "Wonderland," a television series based on the "gritty" action in a psychiatric emergency room, will premiere on ABC on March 30, at 10 PM Eastern Time. Below is a letter expressing concern to Michael D. Eisner, who heads the Disney Company, owner of ABC, from the National Stigma Clearinghouse,

    If you would like to receive National Stigma Clearinghouse STIGMA ALERT PACKETS about "Wonderland," please e-mail your request to Be sure to include your mailing address. As information about "Wonderland" develops we will post it on this site.

    For addresses of "Wonderland" executives, see March 5 News of the Week (just below).

    March 9, 2000

    Dear Mr. Eisner:

    We are writing to express our concern about "Wonderland," a new television series set in a psychiatric hospital and slated to begin on ABC on March 30th.

    Advance publicity about "Wonderland" (an article in TALK magazine, an ABC release, and a current TV ad) confirms our worst fears that the series will reinforce prejudice against people who have psychiatric disabilities. The creators of "Wonderland" picked a scenario with the highest potential for sensation and extremes, a psychiatric hospital emergency room.

    To focus on the rare and extreme behavior of any group as a basis for entertainment is patently unfair and biased, and would not be tolerated by any stereotyped minority. Putting a spotlight week after week on mentally ill people who are in crisis cannot possibly meet standards of balance and accuracy.

    We are also deeply concerned about political messages which may be scripted into "Wonderland." You may be unaware that a real-world controversy presently exists over whether to forcibly medicate people who have mental illness. To illustrate the intensity of this battle: a forced treatment law was recently enacted in New York based on a false claim that an assailant had refused treatment when in fact he had begged for treatment. To avoid manipulation on this and other highly controversial issues, it is imperative that "Wonderland's" creators work closely with the members of the mental health community who experience psychiatric illness firsthand. There is no indication that this has been done.

    For years, the mental health community has shown remarkable restraint in the face of predominantly violent or criminal television portrayals of "mentally ill" characters, and "mentally ill" characters portrayed as deserving violence. Television has been called "the wholesale distributor of the stigma of mental illness" by George Gerbner, a distinguished communications researcher for over thirty years. Gerbner's monitoring of television images, recently updated in a report for the Screen Actors Guild, shows outrageous disproportion in the violent and criminal roles assigned to "mentally ill" characters. Otto F. Wahl, of George Mason University, provides a full discussion of media exploitation of people with psychiatric disabilities in his book, Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illess.

    We suggest that ABC delay the introduction of "Wonderland" pending a preview of the episodes by representatives of the mental health community (not just NAMI and E. Fuller Torrey). The fact is, we have worked for years to bring balance and accuracy to television portrayals of mental illness with little success. For a program finally to happen only to trot out the same old stereotypes is bitterly disappointing.

    Sincerely, Jean Arnold
    National Stigma Clearinghouse

    Enclosures: TALK article, ABC release, ad transcript

    Copies to: Robert A. Iger, Patricia Fili-Krushel, Stuart Blumberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Peter Berg [key executives responsible for "Wonderland"]

    For addresses of the recipients of the above letter, see the list given in March 5 News of the Week (just below).

    March 5, 2000 - News of the Week



    "Wonderland," a new television series set in a busy urban psychiatric hospital, is planned to premiere on ABC at the end of March. Rumor puts the new series opposite NBC's "ER" on Thursdays. (Check listings.)

    A 5-victim shooting by a man with schizophrenia is said to open the pilot episode. This leads us to believe that the series is likely to exploit violence in typical television style.

    Over the years, the mental health community has shown remarkable restraint in the face of predominantly violent or criminal television portrayals of "mentally ill" characters. Television has been called "the wholesale distributor of the stigma of mental illness" by George Gerbner, a distinguished communications researcher for over 30 years. Gerbner's monitoring of television images, recently updated in a report for the Screen Actors Guild, shows outrageous disproportion in the violent and criminal roles assigned to "mentally ill" characters. Otto F. Wahl, in Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness, provides a full discussion of media exaggeration at the expense of people with psychiatric disabilities.

    Recently, a new survey of public attitudes found that the public's fears about mental illness and violence are "out of proportion to reality." (Public Conceptions of Mental Illness: Labels, Causes, Dangerousness and Social Distance, by Bruce Link et al.) This unsurprising finding is almost certainly related to ceaseless negative images in the entertainment media, including a 4-decade run of "psycho-killers" on television and in movies, spawned by the success of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960.

    The mental health community has vast strength in numbers, estimated to include 1/3 of the U.S. adult population. Isn't it time to use this power constructively as other stereotyped minorities have done?

    It is not too soon to express your concerns to all members of the media involved with "Wonderland" : ABC-TV, the Walt Disney Company, Imagine Entertainment, "Wonderland's" creator Peter Berg, television critics -- and, after the series airs, its sponsors.



    ABC Website:

    Michael D. Eisner, Chairman & CEO
    The Walt Disney Company (owns ABC)
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Tel: 818-560-1000

    Alex Wallau, Interim Head
    ABC-TV Television Network
    77 West 66th Street
    New York, NY 10023
    Tel: 212-456-7777
    Fax: 212-456-4866

    Stuart Blumberg, Chairman
    ABC-TV Entertainment
    2040 Avenue of the Stars
    Los Angeles, CA 90027
    Tel: 310-557-7777
    Fax: 310-557-7170

    Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Chairmen
    Imagine Entertainment (producers)
    9465 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor
    Beverly Hills, CA 90212
    Tel: 310-858-2000
    Fax: 310-858-2011

    Peter Berg (creator of "Wonderland")
    c/o Hostage Productions
    609 Greenwich Street, Suite 9A
    New York, NY 10014
    Tel: 212-905-1701
    Fax: 212-905-1723

    Robert A. Iger, President
    Walt Disney Company
    500 South Buena Vista Street
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Fax: 818-560-5960

    February 27, 2000 - News of the Week



    An Open Letter to Peter Berg, producer:

    We read about your new television series, "Wonderland," in TALK magazine (the March 2000 issue.)

    Comment must await the premiere on ABC on March 29. But assuming the TALK article described the storyline correctly, to kick off the series with a multiple shooting by a man with schizophrenia is to stoop to television's most overworked plot ploy.

    Television has been called the "wholesale distributor of the stigma of mental illness" by George Gerbner, a distinguished researcher who has monitored television images for more than 30 years. Mentally ill characters on television are four times more likely to be depicted as dangerous than other characters, and six times more deserving of violence. These wholly-inaccurate images have a corrosive effect on public attitudes toward people with psychiatric disabilities. We are concerned that your new series will add to the problem.

    Mental illness is a fascinating and challenging topic for a television series, but only if stereotypes are replaced by the realities faced by people who have these conditions. The TALK magazine article raises several questions:

    1) How many psychiatric survivors are on your advisory team? How often do you consult them? How much input do they have in script decisions? (We can suggest excellent consultants.)

    2) The TALK article mentions that in the "Wonderland" premiere episode, the assailant had tried to get psychiatric help prior to the shootings. This is a very important point, since the rare acts of desperation that do occur are often preceded by denied requests for help. Will this point get further attention?

    3) We note that Dr. E. Fuller Torrey is quoted in the TALK article. Is Dr. Torrey an advisor for the series?

    For copies of the TALK magazine article, "Fully Committed," by Jonathan Mahler, e-mail your request to Remember to include your mailing address.

    February 20, 2000 - News of the Week


    An article in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, finds that crimes committed by people with mental illnesses are not escalating faster than for the rest of society. We quote below a report on the article which appeared in The Times of London on Feb. 18. This information was supplied by "Mental Health E-News," a posting service of the New York Assoc. of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

    From: THE TIMES, London, Feb. 18, 2000


    by Ian Murray, Medical Correspondent

    The increase in the number of criminal offenses committed by people with schizophrenia has nothing to do with their early release from closed hospitals, research has concluded. The reason for the figures is that society itself has become more criminal, the study, published in The Lancet, says. The researchers, led by Paul Mullen of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health in Australia, compared statistics of crimes committed by schizophrenics and an average cross-section of the population in 1975 -- when most serious schizophrenics were in secure hospitals -- and after the introduction of widespread community care in 1985.

    "Increased rates in criminal conviction for those with schizophrenia over the past 20 years are consistent with change in the pattern of offending in the general community," Professor Mullen says. "Deinstitutionalization does not adequately explain such a change."

    The assumption that criminal behavior is increasing among the seriously mentally ill is untested, he says, and results of his close sudy of patients and crime statistics over the 20 years show that there have been no increases in offending if the rates are compared to the increase in offending in the general population.

    Increasing attention being paid to offending and violent behaviors in schizophrenics is likely to have more to do with an increased awareness of the phenomenon than any increase in these behaviors, he says. "To return to a situation in which those individuals in the early stages of schizophrenic illness spend extended periods in institutions will require the clock to be turned back several decades and its influence on offending, if any, remains uncertain," the professor concludes.

    Activists may wish to save this article to rebut exaggerated claims about violence.

    January 30, 2000 - News of the Week



    No, we haven't imagined it. Crimes committed by people who have mental illnesses are over-represented in the news media, say researchers at the University of Leipzig. Drawing on German research led by Dr. Matthias C. Angermeyer and summarizing other studies conducted in the past decade and earlier in Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland, the researchers found widespread over-reporting of violence attributed to individuals with mental illness labels. (Source: "Reinforcing Stereotypes: The Focus on Forensic Cases in News Reporting and its Influence on Public Attitudes Toward the Mentally Ill," Matthias C. Angermeyer, M.D.; Beate Schulze, M.A., IN PRESS, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.)

    This selective reporting, the German researchers say, causes audiences to integrate distorted information into their view of the "real world." The researchers state that positive images of people who have a mental illness rarely reach the public, compounding the distorted perception. They suggest as a partial solution cooperating with the media to place mental illness in the context of everyday experiences using, where possible, personal accounts.

    One place to begin is to celebrate the growth of mental health survivors' groups across the U.S. (and around the world). Beginning in March, this website will highlight the stereotype-shattering presence of groups and individuals who are the authentic spokespersons for the mental health community,


    Give Me Shelter
    (GMS Arts Education)
    2716 Jefferson
    Midland, MI 48640
    Director: Christine Vaughn

    This "arts and human services" program in Michigan was founded in 1993 by dancer/choreographer L.J. Cavanaugh to foster a unique collaboration between the mental health and arts communities -- a working relationship between professional performers, people with psychiatric disabilities, and the community at large. In the words of the founder, "We're hoping to give a message of hope, and to talk about abilities and not disabilities." The project, based in a community mental health center, has expanded over the years and now offers classes in creative arts at several locations: the Midland Arts Center, a community church, and the local community center. At the heart of the program is the belief that stereotypes dissolve when people work together in a non-judgmental, safe environment. It integrates with the community through public performances and exhibitions, and most recently through programs in the schools.

    January 23, 2000 - News of the Week


    An oddly sweeping and emphatic statement by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey about the "single most important" cause of stigma, in a letter to Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow (December issue), raised our curiosity. Torrey's letter asserts that "studies in Germany and the United States have shown that the single most important cause of public stigma against individuals with mental illness is episodes of violence, including highly publicized homicides, committed by them."

    We have read the researchers' conclusions; Dr. Torrey misses the point. The research concerns how selective reporting affects public attitudes. It is exactly this selective coverage that Dr. Torrey's Treatment Advocacy Center plays upon to market forced-treatment legislation.

    The German and American studies Torrey refers to are attempts to understand the cause of the public's fear of people with mental illness. These studies, by Matthias C. Angermeyer and his colleagues at the University of Leipzig, and Jo Phelan, Bruce Link, and colleagues at Columbia University, span more than five years. What the researchers have found is that exaggerated media attention to violence (to the exclusion of other images of mental illness) has a lasting negative effect upon the public.

    Episodes of violence are rare. It is not the episodes, but the sensational press coverage, that causes the stigma.

    January 16, 2000 - News of the Week


    The station management at KSDK-TV in St. Louis has decided that correspondents who cover controversial news stories should have a voice in how the program is promoted to the public. This decision follows criticism by MadNation's Vicki Fox Wieselthier (, the local chapter of the American Psychiatric Association, and others, that the promotion ad for an evening news segment in November made people with mental illness seem murderous. For nearly two days, daytime television viewers were jarred by the sensationalist ad copy. (See News Archive, Nov. 28, 1999.)

    KSDK producer Jennifer Blome praised the station's action, saying, "Due in large part to Vicki's advocacy, our reporters now are able to produce their own promos for stories whereas before we did not have a hand in what the promotion department was doing."

    The media's use of lurid headlines and promos can overwhelm thoughtful news reporting by responsible journalists. The practice tends to accelerate in the print media during readership battles, and during ratings periods for broadcasters.

    KSDK-TV's exceptional positive response not only speaks well for the station's integrity, but it proves the value of activists speaking out responsibly. This is stigmabusting at its best.

    January 2, 2000 - News of the Week


    The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) and the Public Citizen's Health Research Group recently issued a report, "Threats to Radio and Television Personnel in the United States by Individuals with Severe Mental Illnesses," based on a nationwide questionnaire to radio and television broadcasters.

    813 broadcasters were polled to determine the frequency and consequences of contacts by "individuals with severe mental illnesses." Two-thirds of the 813 stations failed to respond three times to the researchers' attempts to question them. Of the 259 stations that did respond, less than half reported ever having any negative experience with people suspected of having "severe mental illnesses."

    Only 2 percent of the broadcasters who received questionnaires reported that "a mentally ill person" had appeared in person at their station during the past year with threats or complaints. The survey mentions two homicides during the past five years in markets representing 60 percent of the total United States population. Yet the researchers assert that broadcasters are often threatened, and that the survey responses provide evidence of a need to medicate millions of people who have schizophrenia or manic-depression, using force and legal intervention if resistance is met.

    The report repeats, this time in a slightly different version, an often-used misstatement about a Department of Justice (DOJ) analysis done in 1994 by Dawson and Langan. TAC has often cited the DOJ as the source of their statement, "1,000 homicides a year are committed by people with untreated schizophrenia or manic-depression." The fact is, the DOJ study in question analyzed murders committed in one year (1988) that took place in 33 of the largest urban counties in only 19 states. The DOJ analysis did not include medications or diagnoses. The study shows only what took place over a decade ago (when the crack epidemic was at its height), and in no way should it be projected to the current situation. As one indication of how unrepresentative this study is, 44 percent of the murder victims had criminal records!

    In the great majority of cases where a violent act was committed by a mentally ill person (two New York subway pushings in 1999 are a prime example) the person had literally begged for help and had received none. A realistic aim is to demand government programs that would help those mentally ill people who ask for help, and to provide workable options such as social and housing supports, appropriate medical care, guidance in managing symptoms, access to crisis support, and rehabilitation opportunities.

    End of Archive for 2000. For more, see 1999 Archive.

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