It's often no better in fictional accounts of mental illness. Gunter said that people with a disorder rarely are given sensitive treatment in movies and on television, instead often portrayed as deranged lunatics.
"If you see mental illness in the media, a lot of times those illnesses are shown in people who are a real danger to society," she said.
To help end the stigma attached to mental illness, NAMI has created a program called Stigma Busters, which encourages people to report portrayals of mental illness that reinforce stereotypes and promote prejudice.
"We push back when we see stigmatizing language, and the media has gotten more responsive," Fitzpatrick said.
Another NAMI program, Breaking the Silence, goes into classrooms to teach school kids about mental illness, Gunter said.
"You would be so surprised about the lack of information these kids have regarding mental illness," she said. "We are teaching them to change this idea of mental illness."
The Stigma Busters website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has more on fighting the stigma.
A companion article details one man's struggle with paranoid schizophrenia.
SOURCES: Michael J. Fitzpatrick, M.S.W., executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness; Garianne Gunter, M.D., psychiatrist, South Carolina Department of Mental Health
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