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NAMI StigmaBuster Alert: February 2009


The popular television show HOUSE has unveiled an exclusive "House-ism" T-shirt that proclaims "Normal is Overrated" (one of many lines from the show).

It is donating net proceeds from sales to NAMI to support our education, support, and advocacy programs, including StigmaBusters. The promotion is part of the show's celebration of its 100th episode.

Voice Award Nominations Wanted

Voice AwardsHelp the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recognize individuals in the entertainment industry and mental health consumers who give a voice to people with mental illness.

The Voice Awards honor writers and producers who incorporate dignified, respectful, and accurate portrayals of people with mental illnesses into film and television productions. They also honor consumers who contribute to social inclusion and recovery campaigns.

If you know of a film or television episode released between October 1, 2007 and March 15, 2009 that deserves an award, or a consumer who has demonstrated that recovery is possible and made a positive impact in their communities, please nominate them.

Nominations are free, open to anyone, and there is no limit to the number anyone can submit. Entertainment nominations remain open until March 15, 2009; consumer nominations have until May 15, 2009.

The United States of Tara

United States of TaraSpeaking of television, a new series, The United States of Tara, on the Showtime cable channel has sparked broad discussion about disassociative identity disorder (DID), portrayals of mental illness, and the limits of humor-which Newsweek covered recently in one of the best articles on stigma in quite awhile.

Some StigmaBusters hate the show. Others love it.

In the adult comedy-drama, "Tara" struggles with DID (once called "multiple personalities"). Her family is loving and supportive, but don't know what identity, age, mood, or gender she will have on a given day. Showtime has already announced that the show will be extended to a second season in 2010.

Television is never 100% accurate and addressing mental illness with comedy is always controversial, but it is also unusual that a person with a mental illness is portrayed positively as a lead character.

Before the first episode aired, NAMI received complaints about the show based on advance promotion. Since then, reaction has been mixed. Some praise it for helping to reduce stigma and opening public dialogue. Others believes it reinforces stigma and is insensitive and inappropriate, using a serious condition, often rooted in child abuse, as a vehicle for comedy.

Also controversial is Tara's decision to stop taking medication-which causes alternate personalities to emerge. Diablo Cody, the creator and producer, argued in an interview that it represents a choice to try live with the disorder without side-effects of drugs-and to not hide the condition.

Declared one reviewer, "What makes Tara unusual is that D.I.D. isn't treated as frightening and isolating, as a medical conundrum, or as the shortest route to laughs. Tara's alternate identities are accepted by her family and by the community, and, in a way, she's just the town eccentric."

However, the owner of a closed online discussion forum for people who live with DID counters: "Although the show is factually based, the woman's presentation is clearly sensationalist and presents those with DID in an extremely poor light…I can testify to the dramatic negative impact this show is causing those with DID."

To some degree, the discussion is similar to that sparked several years ago by the premiere of the television series, Monk, about a detective living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). SAMHSA has since honored Monk with a Voice Award, but some episodes still get complaints.

What do you think?

Watch the first episode of Tara on-line, and if possible, one or two more recent episodes. Let Showtime know your views.

Ms. Diablo Cody
Executive Producer
United States of Tara
10880 Wilshire Boulevard, 16th Floor
Los Angeles CA 90024

You can also send comments through their Website question box.

Let NAMI know also. Should mental illness and comedy ever mix?

Out of the Inbox

Because of the large number of StigmaBuster messages received, not every one can be answered individually, however, we appreciate every e-mail and do review every stigma report and prioritize them for action.

We also appreciate receiving copies of responses. They are important in helping to coordinate strategy and pursue genuine dialogue. You are our eyes and ears! Your help makes a difference!

Please send reports of stigma to Stella March at

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