Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mental Illness Stigma

Mental Illness does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender or socio-economic status. Many mental illnesses begin during childhood or the teenage years.

One out of five Americans will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime. But, people can get better. With proper treatment, most people with a mental illness recover quickly, and the majority do not need hospital care, or have only brief admissions.

Mental illness has traditionally been surrounded by community misunderstanding, fear, and stigma. Stigma towards people with a mental illness has a detrimental effect on their ability to obtain services, their recovery, the type of treatment and support they receive, and their acceptance in the community.

Exactly what is stigma? Stigma means a mark or sign of shame, disgrace or disapproval, of being shunned or rejected by others. It emerges when people feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about behavior they perceive as different. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong that it places a wall of silence around this issue.

Do you know that an estimated 44 million Americans experience a mental disorder in any given year?

  • Do you know that stigma is not a matter of using the wrong word or action?
  • Do you know that stigma is about disrespect and using negative labels to identify a person living with mental illness?
  • Do you know that stigma is a barrier that discourages individuals and their families from seeking help?
  • Do you know that many people would rather tell employers they committed a petty crime and served time in jail, than admit to being in a psychiatric hospital?
  • Do you know that stigma can result in inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services?
  • Do you know that stigma leads to fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families?
  • Do you know that stigma can cause families and friends to turn their backs on people with mental illness?
  • Do you know thatstigma can prevent people from getting access to needed mental health services?
NAMI has an ongoing fight to break the cycle of stigma that is abundant in our nation. Part of that fight is StigmaBusters. I happen to be a member.

NAMI StigmaBusters is a network of dedicated advocates across the country and around the world who seek to fight inaccurate and hurtful representations of mental illness.

Whether these images are found in TV, film, print, or other media, StigmaBusters speak out and challenge stereotypes. They seek to educate society about the reality of mental illness and the courageous struggles faced by consumers and families every day. StigmaBusters' goal is to break down the barriers of ignorance, prejudice, or unfair discrimination by promoting education, understanding, and respect.

Each month, close to 20,000 advocates receive a NAMI StigmaBusters Alert, and it is read by countless others around the world online. Send it to your own personal and professional networks.

Numbers do count, so let your voice be heard.
This is from the latest Alerts newsletter:

During Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct 7-13), the movie CANVAS will be released in five cities. Whether it succeeds will depend on how well it plays at the box office—in terms of tickets sold. The test will be in Chicago and New York on October 12, followed by Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Phoenix on October 19. If Friday and Saturday ticket sales run high, the release will expand to 200 cities nationwide.

Starring award-winning actors Marcia Gay Harden and Joe Pantoliano, CANVAS is the story of a family's struggle with schizophrenia. The film educates as well as entertains. It will strike a blow against stigma, but only if enough people see it.

The NAMI Advocate has suggested ways to help. You don't even have to live in one of the five cities. Here are the key ones:

* Go see the movie if you live in those metro areas
* Spread the word! Email family and friends in the five cities about the film this week!
* Buy tickets on-line early during the week before each opening. Donate tickets to others.

Theater locations currently are available for four of the five cities. Check local listings for Ft. Lauderdale as the date approaches.

* In Chicago, starting Oct 12: AMC Loews 600 North Michigan 9, 600 N. Michigan Ave. 60611

* In New York, starting Oct12: Regal Union Square Stadium 14, 850 Broadway, 10003

* In Los Angeles, starting Oct 19: Laemmie Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Boulevard, 90046

* In Phoenix, starting Octo19: Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd, (Scottsdale) 85260

Modeling Straitjackets

On October 3, "America's Next Top Model" featured contestants "perfecting their runway walk" while wearing straitjackets, as part of a competition to prove they can make it in "the high-stress, high-stakes world of supermodeling." The set was a mock, abandoned psychiatric ward and the modeling coach, dressed as a nurse, scolded them not to walk "like the former patients of this hospital."

The CW Television Network needs to know:

* The episode was outrageous—mocking people with mental illnesses. Would the show ever use a cancer ward as the setting for a modeling test?
* Straitjackets represent extremely painful, traumatic experiences. Their image is hurtful to individuals and families who struggle with mental illness.
* Using straitjackets for entertainment demeans individual dignity and trivializes mental illness.
* Straitjackets are often associated with violence. Their image reinforces the kind of stigma that the U.S. Surgeon General has found to be a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it.

Rick Mater
Senior Vice-President for Broadcast Standards
The CW Television Network
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017


Halloween Horrors

It's the season again for ghosts and goblins, and unfortunately stigma. Every year, some local haunted house attractions take the form of "insane asylums," featuring "mental patients" as murderers or ghouls. Halloween costumes or other products may reflect similar themes. If Halloween stigma arises in your community:

* Contact the civic sponsor or commercial owner of an attraction or the store manager. Usually, no one intends to offend, but they need to understand that the effect is not only offensive, but also generates stigma.
* If necessary, ask for a group meeting. Explain the public health concern.
* Ask that the theme of the attraction be changed or modified. If the immediate cost is too great, ask for a public statement or written letter of assurance that the theme won't be repeated in future years.
* Ask that a store product be removed from shelves. For chain stores, ask to contact the regional manager.
* Generate a letter-writing campaign. Work as part of group. Inform the news media. Write letters to editors. Use the controversy as a "teaching moment" about mental illness and the need to eliminate stigma
* Try to create partnerships for the future. Thank and praise responsiveness. After the controversy is resolved, invite the civic group or business to support NAMI's broader goals by helping sponsor a walkathon or other local event. Ask if they can help distribute pamphlets.

Stigma "Red Flags"

Whether it's a Halloween attraction or any other portrayal in the entertainment or advertising industries, here are factors that can be weighed to determine whether mental illness or people with mental illnesses are being stigmatized.

* Inaccuracy
* Stereotypes
* Portrayed only as antagonists or villains
* Linkage to violence
* Disparaging language
* Devaluation (trivialization)
* Using mental illness as the butt of a joke
* Offensive or insensitive symbols (e.g., straitjackets)

It makes me angry to see things like the straitjacket wearing models. The media is always quick to portray someone with a mental illness as being violent. It makes for better copy in their opinion. In reality, someone with a mental illness is more likely to be a VICTIM of violence.

If you have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, brain disorder, psychiatric disability, what can you do to combat the stigma? Here are a few suggestions to help you deal with the pressures of stigma:
  • Get appropriate treatment. Don't let the fear or anticipation of being stigmatized prevent you from seeking treatment for your illness. For some people, a specific diagnosis provides relief because it lifts the burden of keeping silent and also underscores that you aren't alone — that many others share your same illness and issues.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Because stigma can lead to social isolation, it's important to stay in touch with family and friends who are understanding. Isolation can make you feel even worse.
  • Make your expectations known. People may not know how to support you, even if they want to help. Offer specific suggestions and remind people of appropriate language.
  • Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder." Instead of calling yourself "a schizophrenic," call yourself "a person with schizophrenia." Don't say you "are depressed." Say you "have depression."
  • Share your own experiences. Speaking at events can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and also educate the public about mental illness. Until you gain confidence, you may want to start at small events, such as talks at a support group or church community.
  • Monitor the media. If you spot stigmatizing stories, comic strips, movies, television shows or even greeting cards, write letters of protest that identify the problem and offer solutions.
  • Join an advocacy group. Some local and national groups have programs to watch for and correct archaic stereotypes, misinformation and disrespectful portrayals of people with mental illnesses.

Start with yourself. Be careful about your own choice of words. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental illness. Your positive attitude can affect everyone with whom you have contact.

Try to influence all the people in your life constructively. Whenever you hear people say things that show they do not really understand mental illness, use the opportunity to share with them some of the information that you have.

We have already changed the way we refer to women, people of differing ethnic backgrounds and people with physical disabilities. Why stop there?