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.

Media presentations

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 early molestation. 

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, victimized.

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 ken@mentalhealth.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 my connection!

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