Forum to Address Stigma of Mental Illness

Examples of newspaper headlines that stigmatize those with mental illnesses

People with mental illness often bear a double burden—the illness itself and the judgments other people make about them because of their disorder. Otto Wahl, a national authority on mental illness stigma, will lead an “Open Mind Forum” on Wednesday, November 20. He will speak at 7:30 pm in Clapp Laboratory’s Hooker Auditorium.

Wahl will discuss the nature and consequences of the misunderstandings, disrespect, and discrimination people with psychiatric disorders often encounter, focusing on how they cope with and challenge those attitudes. He will also describe current efforts by mental-health professionals and advocates to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

His talk will be followed by a panel comprising Erica DeBlase, clinician and outreach coordinator for the MHC Counseling Service; Marty Hadge, community bridger, Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community; Allison Jacobs ’14, president of Active Minds; and Carol Magrone of the family and friends support group of  NAMI of Western Massachusetts.

An open community dialogue will conclude the event.

Wahl is professor of psychology at the University of Hartford and the author of two books on mental-health issues. Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness describes and discusses the stigmatizing ways mass media present mental illnesses. It won the 1996 Gustavus Myers Award for an outstanding book on human rights in North America. Telling Is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma contains personal accounts of stigma and discrimination experienced by those with mental illnesses.

If mental illness seems far removed from your life, consider that one out of every five Americans will experience a psychiatric illness. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Advocate wrote of the book, “The rampant inaccuracies about mental illnesses in newspapers, magazines, movies, and books make it clear that this is not merely stereotyping, but rather a pervasive ignorance. Dr. Wahl's book goes far to explain where the errors are and to educate and sensitize the reader to frequent inaccuracies.”

The event is sponsored by MHC’s Office of the President and the Department of Psychology and Education and by the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community.