* This post is being written as an open letter to Brian Williams, Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil about their recent portrayal on their shows of people living with mental illness.
Dear Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Mr. Williams,
As you read this, you may be bracing yourselves for yet another attack and demand for a public apology for your recent ill -- informed comments about people who live with mental health challenges. Gentleman, don't, as I am not reaching out to you for that reason. I am writing to share all of the good that has happened since we launched this dialogue just a few days ago. I hope that you will say "yes" to this invitation to be heroes and join us in our campaign to seriously confront this last overlooked frontier of civil rights issues. As the media events of the past week have shown us all, one of the most insidious culprits in making change is our use of language that is misinformed, pejorative, discriminatory and just plain cruel.
Since this discourse has begun, between the USA Today article featuring Pete Earley's blog and my blog on the Huffington Post, thousands and thousands of people have been touched, educated and inspired by the light that we are shining on this crucial issue. For this, I thank you. There is nothing more meaningful for me than to hear that my message of acceptance has been healing to a person who lives with mental health challenges. Over the past few days, I have received numerous emails, and comments from people who felt very much heard and supported by what I wrote to you, Dr. Phil.
That is the good news.
On the darker side of this dialogue, many people are chastising me for not being angry with you in my writing and demanding an apology. The truth is the outrage for me lives deep within my soul and is not in "ready to attack" mode depending on external triggers. This human rights issue keeps me up at night and fuels my advocacy work every minute of every day. The problem is so vast that we don't have time for blame. We need to activate and use our horror to make change now! The reality is that we all struggle with our language when it comes to mental illness In many ways, this cause is still in the dark ages and we do not have a universal language that makes any sense.
While I have raised my 12-year-old son with language around brain health that is proactive and enlightened, he still uses slang and terms that are offensive. Media and culture have won out over my endless efforts to be a role model and educate him on the importance of words. A few months ago at a dinner with mental health scholar Elyn Saks who lives with schizophrenia, my son was using derogatory terms to talk about mental illness. He was using slang like "crazy, looney and psycho." Elyn and I had a serious conversation with him about this and when we asked him to express himself more accurately, he said, "If I speak like you are suggesting then people will really think I'm crazy. That is not how the world talks, mom."
And this is where you can all step in. It's going to take a powerful tribe here to join us on the frontlines to open up the dialogue, change the language and promote prevention through educating our children. With your voices and media platforms, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Mr. Williams, you are in the perfect position to be inspiring leaders and to alter the conversation that has started in the media over the past week. Let's talk, let's heal, lets go viral and let's make NAMI's press statement about you the last one. Would you like to be the heroes for the millions and millions of children and adults who live with mental health challenges in this country?
Are you with us on this?
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