National Alliance on Mental Illness
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For Immediate Release: June 14, 2001
Arlington, VA--The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the nation's largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with mental illness, is honoring actors Maurice Benard, Sally Field, Carrie Fisher, and Samuel Jackson for facing the challenge of mental illness. Two have played characters with mental illness. The other two have lived it.
"Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders," said NAMI Executive Director Richard Birkel, Ph.D. "Treatment works, but only if a person gets it. Too often, the stigma associated with mental illness discourages people from getting help when they need it most. That's one reason why the U.S. Surgeon General has called on the entertainment industry to help eliminate stigma."
"In real life or on the screen, the recipients of NAMI's awards represent profiles in courage," Birkel said. "They have helped to demonstrate that people who live with mental illness are often heroes, who not only survive, but often prevail."
NAMI also presents Outstanding Media Awards to actors, directors or producers who portray mental illness accurately and compassionately in dramatic productions, challenging stereotypes and stigma, and helping to build greater public awareness of the individual dignity of people with mental illness.
"Television and movies shape public perceptions of mental illness," Birkel said, "They have tremendous power to do good or do harm to those who struggle to overcome mental illness in real life."
"ER and The Caveman set new standards for realistic portrayal of people living with mental illnesses," Birkel said. "In both cases, Field and Jackson played sympathetic characters, which the audience came to know and like as individuals. They were protagonists. Indeed, Jackson played the hero. People saw the nature of their illnesses. Their struggle was part of the drama, but they weren't made the butt of jokes or cast as violent stereotypes."