National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The following letter was sent by NAMI to the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee on December 19, 2003 in support of the Silver Ribbon First Class Brain Disability Awareness Postage Stamp Proposal.

December 19, 2003

Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza West SW
Washington, D.C.20260-1200


Re: Silver Ribbon First Class Brain Disability Awareness Postage Stamp Proposal

Dear Committee Members:

NAMI, the nation's largest organization dedicated solely to improving the lives of people with severe mental illness strongly supports the proposal for a first-class "Silver Ribbon" Brain Disability Awareness postage stamp.

Mental illnesses are brain disorders. They include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. They can be successfully treated; however, even though one in five Americans experience a mental disorder at some stage during their lifetime, the stigma attached to mental illness often prevents people from seeking help when they need it. Nearly two-thirds never seek treatment.

NAMI is aware that the Committee has passed over proposals for such a stamp before, but this proposal today represents an idea whose time finally has come. We strongly urge the. Postal Service to support the President, the Surgeon General and others in seeking to eliminate stigma and reinforce treatment and recovery as critical public health goals for the nation.

We invite your consideration of the following key facts:

  • Congress proclaimed the 1990s as the "Decade of the Brain," which led to significant advances in understanding and treating mental illnesses.
  • The first White House Conference on Mental Health was convened in 1999, followed by the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark Report on Mental Health, which declared: "Stigma must be overcome."
  • On April 29, 2003, President Bush declared: "Our country must make a commitment: Americans with mental illness deserve our understanding, and they deserve excellent care…To meet this goal, we've got to overcome obstacles…The first obstacle is the stigma that often surrounds mental illness—a stigma caused by a history of misunderstanding, fear, and embarrassment. Stigma leads to isolation, and discourages people from seeking the treatment they need. Political leaders, health care professionals, and all Americans must understand and send this message: mental disability is not a scandal—it is an illness."
  • President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health issues its final report which includes the specific recommendation that the United States implement a national campaign to reduce the stigma of seeking care." The Department of Health & Human Services already has launched such a campaign under the leadership of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), including a Resource Center to Address Discrimination & Stigma (ADS Center). See and
  • In addition, American popular culture is slowly shifting to reject stigma and open minds to the real nature of mental illnesses. During the past two years, two Pulitizer Prizes have been awarded to newspapers that focused on mental illness issues (i.e., the Los Angeles Times and New York Times) and two motion pictures ( A Beautiful Mind and The Hours) presenting accurate, balanced portrayals of persons received Academy Awards.

The Postal Service now has an important, historic opportunity to play a role as part of the federal government’s overall efforts to generate even broader public awareness and education.

The Silver Ribbon is widely recognized within the national mental health community as a symbol of hope and recovery replacing stigma1. It achieved national prominence in 2002, when before a television audience of 40 million people, movie producer Ron Howard wore a Silver Ribbon pin on his lapel in accepting his Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind. The specific design may not be as important as the concept of the stamp; however, the Silver Ribbon, whether used as the centerpiece of a design or in conjunction with other elements—such as a depiction of the human brain—is an excellent starting point for creative deliberation.

Let me also make clear that NAMI’s request is for a simple first-class stamp as a vehicle for creating the broadest possible public awareness. Interest also exists within the mental health community for a stamp that might raise funds for research by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), but we recognize that uncertainty between Congress and the Postal Service in the process for reviewing such proposals makes them largely speculative at this time. Although NAMI reserves the right to request support for such a stamp at a later time, the first step the federal government clearly has embraced is the need for a national campaign to broaden awareness. We ask that you join in taking that first step by recommending the proposal.

Please contact me if I can provide any additional information. Thank you for your consideration.


Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D.
National Executive Director

cc: Postmaster General & CEO

1 Ms. Jean Liechty of California has registered the Silver Ribbon symbol as service mark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in order to preserve it exclusively for "promoting public awareness of the need for support of people with brain disorders and disabilities." NAMI is in communication with Ms. Liechty and we do not expect this registration to impede use of the symbol by the Postal Service. See. Reg. No. 2,280,629, September 28, 1999.