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KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Never Mind!' Yeah, Right

Never mind! We didn't really mean to perpetuate the stigma surrounding children's mental health and neurologic disorders.

That's in effect what the New York University Child Study Center is now saying about its controversial ad campaign about such disorders, which it has canceled. Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the center's founder and director, is quoted in today's New York Times as saying that though some parents of children with the targeted disorders (autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [AD/HD], Asperger syndrome, bulimia, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder) liked the ads, the center "heard from some parents who are working day and night to help their children, and the way they read the ransom messages was that they weren’t doing enough."

You betcha that's the way we read those ads, doc! You conveniently forgot to say anything about how those ads perpetuated stigma and made parents—and the children who might have seen the ads—feel hopeless. I guess you thought that that part wasn't worth mentioning.

But your center will be planning another awareness-raising campaign, and I'm afraid I don't have much faith that the new ads will be much better. I get the strong impression from today's Times story and from last week's story that you enjoy publicity, even if it's negative, and that your attitude toward children's mental and behavioral disorders is stuck in the dark ages.

Hey, doc ... this mother of a teenager with AD/HD and depression, wife of a man with AD/HD, and daughter-in-law of a man with AD/HD will be watching you. Make sure that you get it right this time.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Here is the study center's statement about the discontinued ad campaign.

Updated at 9:10 p.m.: New York Times columnist Judith Warner, whose opinions as expressed in her "Domestic Disturbances" column I often agree with, pinpoints why so many parents of children with mental health and neurologic disorders were so outraged by the ad campaign. Here is my comment on that column.



Harriet said...

I have to say I disagree with you. As the mother of one child with anorexia and the other with depression/anxiety, and with panic disorder issues of my own, I think the NYU campaign was brilliant and told it true and right. I watched my child "go away" as the eating disorder progressed, and very gradually "come back" with recovery. That's how she experienced it, too. I don't see how this perpetuates stigma--it's telling a truth that people need to recognize. The flip side is, well, how flippant people are about psychiatric illnesses, especially for children. Teens with anorexia are "just acting out" or "seeking attention." This series of ads tried to convey the dead seriousness of these disorders and the fact that kids who have them *have no control over them.*

You have *no idea* how many times families with an anorexic child are told that the child must *choose* recovery. What I loved about these ads is that they made clear recovery is not a choice, anymore than it's a "choice" for someone with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.

So please bear in mind that there are other points of view on this, and that your cynicism about it is not helpful.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Harriet, thanks for your comments.

Yes, I'm aware that there are other points of view about the ads. I do believe that people need to be made aware that children can have these serious disorders, but I don't think that capitalizing on parents' fears (that their children could be kidnapped) is the way to go about increaisng awareness.

The ads perpetuated the stigma surrounding mental-health issues by focusing on only hopelessness. Thirty years ago, many mental and neurobehavioral disorders were seen as being completely hopeless. That's not the case today. For many, treatment can help and life can get better. I don't think that children with AD/HD should be told that they are a "detriment to [themselves] & to those around them," as the ad campaign did. I don't think that children with Asperger syndrome should be told that they will have a "life of complete isolation."

Yes, educate the public about disorders. But also teach the public that children (and adults too) are not their disorders.

Harriet said...

I guess I don't see these ads as capitalizing on parents' fears, pr perpetuating stigma. The stigma is already out there, as you no doubt know. And I didn't rad them as aimed at parents but rather as consciousness raising for "the public" (whatever that means) at large. Any parent with a child with a psychiatric disorder already has had his/her consciousness raised all too high.

Your comment about treatment is exactly why these ads were made in the first place, I think: to let people know that there *are* treatments that help and that a child/family doesn't have to just suffer. I think they're meant to inspire people to go out and get help.

From everything I've read it seems that people's responses to these ads depends on what kind of disorder their child has. Parents with kids on the autistic spectrum or with ADD/HD type issues seem to have found them most objectionable. Where I come from, a community of parents dealing with eating disorders and depression/anxiety issues, parents have applauded and been grateful for them.

Maybe the campaign's misstep was in lumping all disorders together, trying for too broad a reach. In any case I see that they've canceled it now. But I do think the dialogue has been jumpstarted.


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Harriet, here is a blog post that explains very well why some, including me, believe that the scuttled ad campaign did more harm than good.

You noted that you believe that the ads were "meant to inspire people to go out and get help." I think that though you and I are on the same side, that particular point is where we will have to agree to disagree. The ads didn't come across as inspirational at all to me; I think that they read as if all hope is lost. After all, how often are kidnapped children returned alive and unharmed by their captors?

Harriet said...

Thanks for the links, Katharine. We will have to agree to disagree.

Just to answer your last question--so long as there's a ransom note there's hope of recovering what's lost. To me that's better than my child just being--gone.

Be well.

Stephanie said...

Ummm...Wow. I've been in a bubble lately and hadn't heard about all this. I'm just now digging through articles and reading up on the matter. My reaction would have matched yours, Kathy. Those ads were awful. I have various family members with various disabilities, and I can imagine only hurt and embarrassed reactions from them if they were to see those ads.

KCB said...

Thanks for the links. I'm hoping that the CSC is thoroughly chastised now. I still wonder what in the world they were thinking.

Anonymous said...

Too little too late?
It took Harold Koplewicz too long to realize that hurting people you want to “help” is not acceptable collateral damage. We should write these officials to thank them for pulling the ads and request that they keep an eye on Dr. Koplewicz to make sure he doesn’t try anything this dirty again to drum up business in the name of public awareness:

Kenneth Langone, Board Chairman
New York University Medical Center

Martin Lipton, Board of Trustee Chairman
New York University

John Sexton, President
New York University

Robert Grossman, Dean & President
New York University Medical Center

Steve said...

My brother and Dad have AD/HD and I figure I might too because I usually spend hours and hours on my homework because I can't focus. (But I get straight As so they can't imagine I have an educational handicapability.)

But the bottom line is that sometimes the truth hurts. AD/HD is a detriment to kids and to society--if it weren't we wouldn't want to treat it. The way they phrased obviously didn't strike the right cord with some people--but for the same reasons we shouldn't blame people for their inherent disabilities, or blame you for being mad, we shouldn't blame for making an oversight with ad campaign.

Just like how AD/HD went from just being normal for some kids to being a disease, one day people will say laziness is a disease and oversleeping is a disease (they already have pills to treat it), and that is fine with me. No one should be blamed for their problems--even the people who have the disease of designing bad PR campaign.

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