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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 11/6/2013

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Training Teleconference: The Power of the Media and Its Impact on Mental Health Recovery

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People with psychiatric disabilities face discrimination and rejection in every area of their lives. We are denied jobs, housing and insurance. We are mercilessly stereotyped on television, on the radio, in movies, novels and newspapers. Now we are sending a strong message to this country that we refuse to be treated as second-class citizens any longer.

Joseph Rogers, executive director
National Mental Health Consumers' Self Help Clearinghouse

The media play a powerful role in our culture. Every day tens of millions of people are influenced by what they see, read, and hear. Media have the ability to educate and inform us about real people, real life encounters, real challenges, and how people have overcome great odds to heal or achieve what seemed unreachable. Many people trust that what they read in the newspaper, what is reported on television news, or what Hollywood portrays is the truth. But whose truth is it?

How can the mental health community do a better job working with the media to positively and more accurately portray individuals with mental health problems and related social and economic issues that impact mental health recovery in America?

Media often allow us to transcend our world and gain new insights, understanding, and compassion for others. Unfortunately, the media may also perpetuate misperceptions and prejudice. Research has shown that media portrayals continue to reinforce negative stereotypes of people with mental health problems.i

This training teleconference will consider some of the media's positive messages that promote respect, acceptance, the dignity of difference, and the inclusion of people with mental health problems and explore the impact of media that perpetuate negative stereotypes. The teleconference will also provide education and awareness strategies for individuals and organizations to use with the media to promote accurate depictions of people with mental health problems.


Participants will:

  1. Better understand the impact, both positive and negative, that the media have on perceptions of mental health problems.
  2. Learn how one state is working with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) through a SAMHSA Mental Health Transformation Grant and is using innovative strategies, grassroots community resources, and editor engagement to successfully encourage journalists to change their language and to transform media portrayals of mental health issues.
  3. Learn how to engage with local, state, and national news and entertainment media to positively influence presentations of people with mental health problems.

Target Audiences

  • Consumers, survivors, current or past recipients of mental health services, peers, family members, providers, researchers, administrators, advocates, and mental health organizations
  • Media professionals


Bob Carolla, J.D., serves as the director of media relations for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and supervises NAMI's StigmaBusters program. He is a frequent consumer spokesperson and has worked closely with SAMHSA's Campaign for Mental Health Recovery, including the Voice Awards and ADS Center. He also is a member of the editorial board of bp Magazine. For 10 years, he served as a senior legislative assistant to former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell (D-ME), handling a range of issues including the Americans with Disabilities Act. During law school at Boston University, he was topics editor for the American Journal of Law & Medicine.

Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D., is on faculty at the University of Washington's School of Social Work. Her research is focused on the production, experiences of, and health implications of social marginalization (stigma, prejudice, and discrimination). She has explored these issues for those who use means-tested government programs, tobacco, and for people with mental health problems. Dr. Stuber was the lead editor of a special issue of Social Science & Medicine on stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and health. She currently leads a project in Washington State designed to increase community engagement with news media and to improve the accuracy and language of news stories on mental health/mental illness.

Otto Wahl, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology, University of Hartford. Dr. Wahl's work includes numerous research articles and presentations related to stigma and media depictions of mental illnesses. He is the author of Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness (about the media portrayal of mental illness) and Telling Is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma (documenting the experiences of people with mental illnesses).

Dr. Wahl serves as an advisor to several organizations involved in public education about mental illnesses, such as the National Stigma Clearinghouse. He has been a consultant for the SAMHSA ADS Center and for the Elimination of Barriers Initiative. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and is a current member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. Dr. Wahl has received numerous awards for his efforts to combat the stigma of mental illness, including the Patient Advocacy Award from the American Psychiatric Association and the Eli Lilly Welcome Back Award for Destigmatization. Finally, Dr. Wahl has developed a Web site with information about his work and about resources for combating stigma, External Web Site Policy. .


iWahl, OF (1995). Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Health. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.