Guidelines - Promoting Accuracy In Depictions
Adapted from guidelines provided by the National Stigma
of Multiple Personality
INITIATING A STORY
* Phone calls, letters, and press releases are all good ways
to initiate interest in a story.
* Keep the story warm by supplying developing information by fax or mail.
* Expect to wait; the idea may need to incubate.
* Always return a reporter's phone call promptly, if only to
say you can't talk until later. Supply additional names and phone
numbers, after getting permission, to increase the reporter's options
and add depth to the story.
CHOOSING YOUR MESSAGE POINTS
If you initiated the story, you already have a clear idea of what
is most important. When planning how to present these important
points, keep in mind that a general audience is apt to be uninformed
about multiple personality. Aim for clarity, repetition, and emotional
Use facts. Since no formal research has been done on healthy
multiplicity, cite the anecdotal evidence of your own and your friends' experiences.
If a journalist approaches you for an interview, find out the
reason for the story. Then decide upon your message points
Broaden the story by suggesting the names of colleagues to the
PREPARING YOUR MESSAGE POINTS
- Decide upon 2 or 3 key points.
- Work on boiling down each point to a key sentence.
- Practice several different ways to state the points.
- Decide what anecdotes, facts, and figures you will use to
amplify your points.
- Try trimming your points to 15 or 20-second "soundbites."
- In most cases, you can ask that a fumbled answer be retaped.
Just say, Can we do that again?
- Restate your key points as often as you can. Use examples
that relate to the audience. Appeal to the senses of the listeners by
painting a picture in their minds.
HANDLING MEDIA INTERVIEWS
The tips that follow will give you a sense of what reporters need
when they turn to you for an interview. With practice, you can help
them deliver your message with clarity.
- Prepare for the interview. Make sure the interviewer has
background information several hours before, or on the day before the
- Know the purpose of the story for which you are being
- Know where and when the story will appear.
- Correct or amplify any statement you make, during the
interview or shortly after.
- Abstain from answering questions outside your expertise.
- Do not release private information.
- Look your best and sound your best.
MAKING MESSAGE POINTS MEMORABLE
REPEAT your message points. Weave them throughout the interview.
RELATE your message points to your audience's experiences by using
stories, examples, facts and figures.
EVOKE empathy by using visual images and words that arouse
EMPHASIZE the "more alike than different" view: multiples are
RESPONDING TO PREJUDICE
Phone calls, letters, and faxes are the simplest, most direct, and
most frequent contacts that advocates are likely to have with the
media. These are "smoking gun" encounters -- used to correct
inaccuracies, to protest negative stereotyping, and to end
exploitative advertising or entertainment.
Evidence in hand, a single letter or phone call to the people
responsible explaining the harm done is often all that is needed. The
chances are good that a "smoking gun" encounter will open doors to
further dialogue. You may be surprised at the number of potential
allies who work in the media.
And let's get one of these:
"For a free booklet to assist letter writers, order "Challenging
Stereotypes: An Action Guide," from the Center for Mental Health
Services. Call toll free 1-800-789-2647, publication SMA 01-3513."
We can adapt this for use in PAVILION activity.
MUTUAL RESPECT IS FUNDAMENTAL
The mass media wield a powerful influence over public opinion.
This is particularly true for mental illnesses, since the public is
sadly lacking in knowledge needed to discern fact from fiction.
Like members of the public, media professionals may have limited
knowledge of mental illnesses. Stereotypes become self-perpetuating
unless they are replaced by clear, credible alternatives. If mental
health activists fail to speak out, we resign ourselves to the status
Seek to build good relationships with journalists and other key
professionals by being informative and reliable. Let members of the
media know you respect their intention to be fair and accurate.
TEN IDEAS FOR DEPICTING MENTAL ILLNESSES
I am going to adapt this, since multiplicity is not a mental illness but is constantly portrayed as one. Here we go.
Copyright 2001, Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Depiction Suggestion 1
Try to provide accurate information about multiple personalities.
Multiples may go unrecognised to themeselves, as well as to
those around them, because multiples are practically invisible on
television except for the limited stereotypes. On television, healthy,
non-disordered multiplicity simply doesn't exist. The media's role in
getting the word out about multiplicity and what it really is as
opposed to the stereotypes would be especially helpful because the
same stigma that blankets this important problem also impedes people's
access to information about it. The media can be a terrific vehicle
for dispelling myths while at the same time telling compelling
According to a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family
Foundation in 1998, health care providers and the media, particularly
television, generally top people's list of information sources for
health-related information. Dr. Neal Baer, former Executive Producer
of ER and now Executive Producer of Law & Order: SVU, conducted a
survey along with other researchers (published in Health Affairs,
February 2001) to determine the impact of the entertainment media on
specific health-related issues. Their findings showed that audience
awareness substantially increased, at least in the short-term, about
issues presented (though without repetition, the awareness level was
not sustained over time).
The "Some Interesting Facts" section on the Entertainment
Industries Council website
(http://www.eiconline.org/creative/spotlighton/mentill), along with
the organization resource list provided, give some useful information
that, when integrated into scripts, can not only enhance the
authenticity of the story line, but provide viewers with what may be
Depiction Suggestion No. 2
Try to avoid connecting multiple personality with violence by
emphasizing the "killer personality."
There's been an unfortunate and damaging link between
multiplicity and violent behavior both on screen and in the public's
mind. Even if multiplicity were a mental illness, several studies have
shown that, as a whole, people with mental disorders are no more
dangerous than the general population.
Depiction Suggestion No. 3
Try exploring the difficulties multiples face in terms of
prejudice and stereotyping and how both impede the establishment of
When it comes to multiplicity, the response of others may be
as difficult to cope with as the condition itself. Coming out as
multiple often leads to prejudice and fear. A multiple may internalize
these negative reactions and feel shame and embarrassment.
Thanks to both media and the mental health industry, multiples
are regarded by the general population with fear, as threatening
"mentally ill" people, or simply as attention-getting fakers. People
who do believe multiplicity exists see it as a mental illness, and
most people do not want to be around anyone who is mentally ill.
Depiction Suggestion No. 4
Consider showing likeable main characters who are multiple having
a cooperative system and getting along well in life. Having a TV or
movie character the public identifies with provides a positive role
model that others can emulate.
Showing a likeable character experiencing happiness and
functioning normally impresses upon viewers that the line between
so-called normalcy and multiplicity is blurrier than many people
think. "More alike than different."
Depiction Suggestion No. 5
When incorporating a character who is multiple, try to give an
empathetic portrayal of the genuine difficulties such a person
may encounter. No "memory loss", no "ending up in Schenectady", no
"struggle for dominance between personalities" and no criminal
Just showing a somewhat sympathetic individual who is multiple can be
a catalyst for viewers who are multiple to recognize themselves, thus
improving the chances that they will inter-communicate and form
healthy, smoothly functioning operating systems.
Empathetic portrayals - exploring what it's like to be
multiple - can also foster a better understanding and greater
acceptance among the audience at large. Focusing on the person and not
just the multiplicity - his or her joys, fears, inner struggles and
pleasures - may help the public perceive multiples as little different
from themselves, rather than frighteningly alien. The emphasis on the
humanistic side of multiplicity sends a message that multiples are not
so different after all.
Depiction Suggestion No. 6
Consider showing multiples as productive, functioning members of
society who get along with other people as well as with their "inner
Fear of exposure may make those who are successful in life
afraid to acknowledge their multiplicity. Thus the public, including
other multiples themselves, are seldom if ever exposed to positive
role models - productive members of society who happen to be multiple.
On the other hand, negative role models - the "mad slasher",
the "crazed gunman", etc. - are likely to grab headlines. This
overrepresentation of negative imagery gives the public a one-sided,
skewed view of multiplicity.
Depiction Suggestion No. 7
Try to avoid labels and pejorative terms like "PSYCHO", "MENTAL
CASE" and "WACKO".
Multiples are associated with mental illness, with all the wisecracks
and derogatory comments typical of the "last minority". It is still
perfectly acceptable in modern society to despise and ridicule the
mentally ill. Whether or not multiplicity is a mental illness, this is
a shameful and dishonorable way to treat fellow human beings, and it
is beneath the dignity of a genuine journalist or screenwriter.
Though it's certainly the writers' prerogative - even their
obligation - to craft realistic and effective dialogue, it should also
be remembered that words can be very hurtful.
Depiction Suggestion No. 8
If portraying a suicidal individual, consider showing some of the
warning signs and the importance of intervention. Remember that there
is no proof that multiples are more inclined to suicidal thoughts / actions
than the general population. When a multiple is depicted as suicidal,
one justified cause might be stress. Having to live "in the closet,"
pretending to be a single person, effectively lying about one's very
nature, might cause a multiple (or a person in a multiple system) to
consider suicide. Consult articles and research about gays and suicide
in the years before gay acceptance; the situation multiples now face is
Approximately 31,000 Americans kill themselves every year.
Many of these suicides could have been prevented with the proper
intervention. According to the American Association of Suicidology,
three out of four people who kill themselves give definite warnings
about their intentions, but others are either unaware or don't know
how to respond.
The media is in an enviable position to provide needed
information about warning signs and effective intervention while
telling engaging stories at the same time.
The Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center lists some of these
signs, which could be incorporated into a production when appropriate:
- Experiencing suicidal feelings directly or bringing up the
topic of suicide. (Watch this one - some cultures and occupations use jokes about suicide as a way to relieve stress. Don't overinterpret a casual remark.)
- Giving away prized possessions, settling affairs, and/or
making out a will.
- Exhibiting signs of depression: loss of pleasure, sad mood,
alterations in sleeping or eating patterns, feelings of hopelessness,
or excessive guilt.
- Changing behavior, poor work or school performance.
- Showing risk-taking behaviors.
- Using alcohol or drugs to a greater degree.
- Isolating socially.
- Developing a specific plan (the #1 predictor of suicide).
The following are suggestions of what others can do if someone
seems suicidal (based on information supplied by the Los Angeles
Suicide Prevention Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District
Suicide Prevention Unit):
Depiction Suggestion No. 9
Consider showing that even if multiple personality is a mental disorder,
this need not mean a death sentence to endless rounds of hospitalization
and medication. Reportedly, there are many professionals today who practice
'family therapy' with multiples, helping to establish communication and
cooperation rather than forcing the group to integrate and behave as one
person -- a goal that FAILED with many famous multiples, including Sybil. Shirley Mason, the real-life Sybil, said that she felt depressed
and lonely without her "sisters", and voluntarily re-differentiated on her
Laudably, a few highly successful individuals within the entertainment
industry have stepped forward to acknowledge their psychiatric problems,
giving fellow sufferers both hope and confidence. Multiples who are in show
business -- actors, screenwriters, directors, producers, technical --
should come out of the closet and speak out about who they really are.
Depiction Suggestion No. 10
The National Stigma Clearinghouse urges the use of "person-first"
language. They want to show that people who have experienced psychiatric
disabilities aren't just the sum total of their illness - they're people
It probably is not wise to use person-first language when speaking of
multiplicity, since that would de-emphasize the idea that the persons in
the group are people in and of themselves. However, the idea that multiples
are not really that different from any group of single persons should be
People in a multiple system have complex personalities of their own;
they can be smart, obstinate, sweet, whatever - just like anyone else. But
because of pervasive stereotyping, they often get pigeonholed by others so
that everything they say and do is seen through the filter of other
people's preconceived notions about multiplicity as a mental illness. For
example, what may be interpreted as garden-variety anger in a so-called
normal person may be seen as "out of control behavior" in someone known to
be multiple. Their thoughts and feelings may be dismissed as simply a
product of their status as a member of a group sharing a body, just as the
valid emotions of a mentally ill person are usually misinterpreted as a symptom of
NOTE: EIC is looking for productions that accurately depict mental
health issues. Please forward shows or movies to Barbara Lurie, EIC West,
500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-7283. (EIC website: