NAMI Criticizes Dr. Phil and Brian Williams For Prejudicial Remarks; But Wait, Have You Seen What Dr. Oz Is Doing?


The National Alliance on Mental Illness issued a statement Friday night chastising both Dr. Phil and NBC’s Brian Williams for inappropriate  remarks they have  made which stigmatized persons with mental illnesses.

NAMI’s statement [printed below] further legitimizes complaints that I raised in an Op Ed about Dr. Phil published Wednesday in USA Today’s online edition and blogs published by others criticizing Dr. Phil and Williams. Major news sources often don’t pay much attention to individual blogs, but do react when NAMI, the largest grassroots mental health organization with more than 300,000 members, issues a statement.

I hope NAMI’s statement will bring additional pressure on NBC’s Williams and Dr. Phil to publicly apologize, although I am skeptical either will. 

Meanwhile, you can add a third offender to the list of television personalities who should know better but apparently believe it is funny to make light about persons with mental illnesses.

 The Dr. Oz show recently featured a two part segment called “Are You Normal or Nuts?” with this catchy caption:

Is your craziness is cause for concern? Dr. Oz enlists a panel of professionals to explain your weirdest quirks, anxieties and dreams. Watch as a team of the nation’s top psychologists evaluate audience members to determine if they’re normal or nuts!

Using a so-called panel of experts, who flipped over Olympic style judging boards bearing the words Nuts and Normal,  and a large scale, Dr. Oz diagnosed audience members, declaring in seconds if they were normal or nuts.

As the parent of a son with a serious mental illness I find Dr. Phil’s comments and Dr. Oz’s sideshow antics  especially offensive given that both are spewing out  mental health advice on national television in ways that demean individuals who need support, encouragement and hope, not ridicule.

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) today released the following statement.

“It has been a bad two weeks for Americans with concerns about the stigma that surrounds mental illness. For all the progress that has been made in recent years, Dr. Phil of the CBS Distribution Network and Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News, through televised comments, perpetuated cruel and inaccurate stereotypes about people living with mental illness.

Dr. Phil said that people who are insane ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon.’ Mr. Williams called Ariel Castro, the Clevelandkidnapper and rapist, ‘arguably the face of mental illness,’ violating journalism guidelines against speculative diagnoses and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are not violent.

NAMI shares the outrage of many people over these remarks. More importantly, we are surprised and disappointed over their source. Both Dr. Phil and Mr. Williams have been sensitive to some mental health concerns in the past.  We expect better of them and they should know better. We hope to pursue dialogues with them to renew their concern.

It is especially ironic that the statements have come just one month after President Obama’s White House Conference on Mental Health launched the current National Dialogue on mental illness. The U.S. Surgeon long ago reported that stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it—and impedes recovery when it is internalized. As the President noted, our country must remove the ’embarrassment’ associated with mental illness.

‘We’ve got to get rid of that stigma,’ the President declared.

NAMI calls on both Dr. Phil, Mr. Williams and their television networks to join in that effort and participate constructively in the National Dialogue.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.