Dr Phil & Brian Williams Stigmatize Those with Mental Illness

How dare they? I am appalled by the recent cruel stereotyping of those with mental illness that has occurred in the media by two people who should know better. Last week on his TV show, Dr. Phil said that insane people “suck on rocks and bark at the moon.” And a few days later Brian Williams added insult to injury when he called the Cleveland kidnapper and rapist “the face of mental illness.” I know what the face of mental illness looks like. It looks like Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Van Gogh and Hemmingway. It looks like my son–artist, teacher, and writer. How dare Dr. Phil and Brian Williams insult those who live with mental illness? How could they be so ignorant and in the process harm so many?

Thank you to Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of NAMI, who has responded for NAMI:

“It has been a bad two weeks for Americans with concerns about the stigma that surrounds mental illness. For all the progress that has been made in recent years, Dr. Phil of the CBS Distribution Network and Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News, through televised comments, perpetuated cruel and inaccurate stereotypes about people living with mental illness.

Dr. Phil said that people who are insane ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon.’ Mr. Williams called Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnapper and rapist, ‘arguably the face of mental illness,’ violating journalism guidelines against speculative diagnoses and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are not violent.

NAMI shares the outrage of many people over these remarks. More importantly, we are surprised and disappointed over their source. Both Dr. Phil and Mr. Williams have been sensitive to some mental health concerns in the past. We expect better of them and they should know better. We hope to pursue dialogues with them to renew their concern.

It is especially ironic that the statements have come just one month after President Obama’s White House Conference on Mental Health launched the current National Dialogue on mental illness. The U.S. Surgeon long ago reported that stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it—and impedes recovery when it is internalized. As the President noted, our country must remove the ’embarrassment’ associated with mental illness.

‘We’ve got to get rid of that stigma,’ the President declared.

NAMI calls on both Dr. Phil, Mr. Williams and their television networks to join in that effort and participate constructively in the National Dialogue.”


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