Spring to Action: A National Mental Health Symposium to Address Discrimination
and Stigma, Baltimore, March 26/27.
There were many familiar faces as I registered. E people
I saw: Irene Lynch, Susan Rogers, Kevin Fitts, Judi Chamberlin, Joe Rogers, Ron Thompson,
Vickie Reis-Allen, J Rock Johnson, Laura Van Tosh, Carmen Lee, ... 425 - 450 people filled
the room for the opening plenaries.
Satcher included the word "discrimination" several times in his
remarks and downplayed "stigma" somewhat. However he noted how we
(professionals) can treat them (patients) and return them to productive lives. (This is a
paternalistic, not a partnership model.)
Satcher presented Bernie Arons with the Surgeon General'sMedallion.
Harold Maio interrupted the ADA presentation several times, pointing out how important language
is, how "have" is preferred to "suffer" which co-opts one's
experience, and that "disability" is not synonymous "illness."
Afterward, I added that on similar grounds, I prefer "less-visible" to
"hidden" which suggests shame, and all "health and "other health"
can be used instead of contrasting "mental" health with "physical"
health which emphasizes separation.
One of the presenters was Julie Clark who told the story of how she successfully
challenged the VA bar application "mental health" questions.
Judi led in a moment of silence to remember Rae Unzickerwho died
last Thursday at her home in South Dakota.
CSAT's (treatment) Wesley Clark didn't get the conference message. He repeated the word
"stigma" over and over and over, maybe once a minute. (My anger at how he made
the conference message invisible got in the way of my hearing what he had to say.)
CSAP's Sanchez-Way (prevention) also ignored discrimination and prejudice and called it
all stigma, confusing internalized process with the social context that causes them.
I was discouraged that within SAMHSA, the other two centers have such a different agenda
and target population that their understanding of context and social forces is not helpful
for the inclusion of people with psychiatric disabilities in the mainstream. I actually
felt better when I spoke to Wesley Clark of my concern and he said that while substance
abuse and m h have some issues in common, they are not congruent and
because of the law-breaking aspects of substance abuse.
Otto Wahl: A violent presentation with lots and lots of slides and examples of gory media
presentations, reinforcing fears and negativity while faulting the media. He did not much
address the global health context or discrimination and prejudice , preferring a campaign
against, "stigma-busters." He was successful in bonding the audience and
received a standing ovation. He is at George Mason University, which I think is where TAC
placed there legal professorship. I was encouraged to speak to him afterwards, and,
like a good psychologist, he respectfully listened to my concerns. I asked him why
he didn't even mention abuse and he asked where my data come from, didn't find NASMHPD
authorative, reacted strongly to the information about how many People Who had experienced
There followed a media panel whose facilitator (Willwerth) again didn't address
discrimination, instead underscoring "stigma" and its pervasiveness and allowing
themselves to overlook the social context and the valence of discrimination and prejudice
while emphasizing the facts of neurobiological illness.
Gerbner: TV is an environment. An image of a person with mental illness appears on TV an
average of three times a week. The three qualities associated are: unpredictable, violent,
Vine: Sister of man with schizophrenia, NY NAMI founder, author of Families in Pain.
Leading off with gory stories in the service of dispelling violent images. "The
suspect has no connection with mental illness. He is not a homeless person."
Inappropriate use of "schizophrenic."
Dentzer: erase ignorance, "fight stigma," News Hour piece of schizophrenia,
wants "information and knowledge" about "the biological roots," ...
She would be happy to have more People Who in her Rolodex. (I didn't catch the whole
street address; It's room 140, Arlington VA 22206)
Lurie: when writing media, ..., also commend the positive. Consider also writing to
"Standards and Practices" media departments.
Someone suggested that more People Who become journalists ourselves!
10 years ago, the media cited a variety of sources about mental health; today the almost
always cite MD's.
Make change by appealing to *local* media and broadcasters.
Iris Hyman gave appreciations to many, and a bouquet to Jennifer Brown, OOO, for her
planning and follow through.
Russell Pierce gave an inspirational closing; only the few who stayed to
the very end were able to hear that.
I didn't hear any speaker address the need to blame, the fear of difference, the emotions
in most people that provide the ground in which to plant stereotypes. I didn't hear any
one speak about non-biological causes, sexual abuse, incest, battering. Now that the
concept of a Discimination Conference is in place, I hope People Who will focus and shape
the agenda and audience beyond media towards a public health and social context.
CMHS released a new publication, Challenging Stereotypes, SMA 01-3513, available from firstname.lastname@example.org which has a clear 7 step
description of how to write an effective letter.
Kinike Bermudez and I were on the same flight to Dallas, which left an hour late
because we waited to replace a mechanical part of an engine. I got a large dose of
exercise as I hurried from Terminal C to B (a mile perhaps) in 14 minutes and I did make