Fighting Stigma Letters

Example Letter to a Local Newspaper

Dear Editor:

Your July 27 cover story, “Is this Man a Monster?” illustrates the rampant ignorance and stigma that people with mental illness still must endure. I realize this story is not implying that all people with mental illness are axe murderers. However, you neglected to print more than two useful facts about bipolar disorder: lithium is used to treat it and it cannot be cured. In careless service of your own argument, you neglected to mention the 2.5 million Americans living with bipolar disorder who are not axe murderers. You have done a disservice to individuals who lead productive lives, and now must defend themselves, to friends and family, explaining that they are not murderers or monsters, nor will they ever be. You have also added to the burden of countless others who won’t seek help for fear of being labeled “monsters”.

You had my attention, and surely the attention of many. It would not have ruined your story’s dramatic effect to mention that while the man in your story, who has bipolar disorder, killed his family; many of our close friends, family members and neighbors live with varying degrees of this same illness, contribute much to this world and are not dangerous. People with bipolar disorder deserve understanding, respect and knowledge of the facts about their illness.

LV, Andersonville

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Example Letter to a Local Radio Show Host

Barret Robbins played for nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders, and is remembered for disappearing the night before the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego, and being shot by police in a scuffle in early 2005, for which he is currently awaiting trial. His bipolar disorder is often highlighted, blamed and stigmatized in articles about him. After the 2003 incident, a DBSA constituent wrote this letter to local radio hosts.

Hi Guys:

I love waking up with you every morning, and I know you’re a hate-free zone, so please give some love and support to Barret Robbins. He should not be blamed or ridiculed, he should be commended for getting treatment for and being open about his illness. Robbins will probably be fine if he receives the right treatment healthwise. I’m not sure about his relationship with his team or fans, and that’s too bad. If his appendix ruptured or his kidneys failed, he’d get nothing but love. This is the same thing, only it’s in another organ, his brain.

Here are some facts listeners might like to know.

  • Depression is one of the phases of bipolar disorder the other is mania, which sort of feels like your mind is racing out of control and you can’t turn it off.
  • Most people coming into most psychiatric facilities with depression will be put on Suicide Watch for the first couple of days, to protect them and the hospital. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person has actually tried to kill himself.
  • The comment was made on your show yesterday, "There’s always someone who goes crazy and can’t handle it." That was pretty callous. I was hospitalized 10 years ago for bipolar disorder, and it wasn’t because I couldn’t handle things my life was going fine and my brain malfunctioned. That’s what happens. Stress can be a factor, but it's not the only cause. Today I am happy and healthy and trying to get people to understand the facts about these illnesses.

Please help eliminate the shame. Depression and bipolar disorder are very treatable but they can be very deadly if people don’t have the facts. A good resource for people who want to learn more is Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (headquartered in Chicago). Their phone number is (800) 826-3632.

LV, North Side

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Example Letter to a Member of Congress

Dear Representative Schakowsky:

I’m writing to urge you to become a co-sponsor of the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act - HR 4066. Mental health insurance parity could do a great deal to improve the health of our country as a whole. It could save lives and help defeat the stigma that surrounds mental illness for a very low cost.

When H.R. 162 was being debated late last year, it was brought to my attention that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that parity would increase insurance premium costs by only 1% - just one penny per dollar. This is a small price to pay to give working Americans the chance to receive timely treatment for mental illness. Right now many Americans avoid seeking mental health treatment because they don’t have adequate coverage, which can allow their illness to progress and ruin or even end their lives and devastate those who love them. If working Americans’ mental health benefits were equal to their benefits for other physical illnesses, many more people could get treatment BEFORE their illness ruined lives.

Since our national tragedy, a large number of Americans have sought psychological or psychiatric help for the first time. Some, with severe post-traumatic stress symptoms, have even had to check into hospitals. If our country is to remain strong, and each American is to feel supported by his country, can we allow insurance companies to refuse to pay for the treatments these people need?
We have a long way to go before the stigma surrounding mental illness is eliminated. Please help us take a giant step toward ending stigma by co-sponsoring this bill. Mental illness can affect anyone at any time. If we continue to allow substandard benefits for these illnesses, we re-enforce the erroneous message that people with mental illness could recover if they simply try harder. We wouldn’t ask someone to wish away their cancer, let’s stop asking people to “pull themselves out” of a physical illness that happens to affect their brains.

I believe you and your fellow representatives care about the health and well-being of all Americans, and I am fairly certain you supported HR 162. Please take a stand, become a co-sponsor of HR 4066, and give America the chance to be the strongest, healthiest country it can be.

With gratitude and support,
LV, 13th District

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