Ransom Notes From Psychiatric Disorders

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The NYU Child Study Center just launched a new campaign to draw attention to psychiatric disorders in children. This in-your-face approach has created a lot of controversy, according to the New York Times. But Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., director of center (and a Parents advisor), wants people to sit up and pay attention.

The NYU Child Study Center’s "Ransom Notes" public service campaign is designed as a provocative wake up to create awareness and spark dialogue about childhood psychiatric disorders, one of America’s last remaining silent public health epidemics. Twelve million American children and adolescents face daily battles with psychiatric disorders. Untreated, these children are at risk for academic failure, school dropout, substance abuse, suicide, unemployment, and imprisonment. Children who do receive appropriate treatment, however, can learn to function and thrive.

Check out some other images from the campaign.

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These "ransom notes" are going to appear in magazines and billboards. I think they’re very powerful, and create a sense of urgency about an issue that most people don’t think about very much unless it directly affects their lives.

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What do you all think? Are these going to far? Are they further stigmatizing kids who have mental disorders or is it shining a light on a public health problem?

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  1. by Danielle

    On December 14, 2007 at 8:19 am

    I think this gives a name and a real explanation for these kids who end up forgotten, picked on, called names, and falling through academic cracks…. It would help if there was more understanding and less accusing them of just being ‘crazy’ and not ‘fitting in’.

  2. by Lucretia O'Dell

    On December 14, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I think this a fabulous way to get people to start talking about this topic. As a teacher, I see a rise in psychiatric disorders and as a nation we need to put more money into research on how to stop this. Many times people don’t care until it is their child or a child close to them. We need to make people aware and what better way than a controversial ad campaign!

  3. by Lucretia O'Dell

    On December 14, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I think this a fabulous way to get people to start talking about this topic. As a teacher, I see a rise in psychiatric disorders and as a nation we need to put more money into research on how to stop this. Many times people don’t care until it is their child or a child close to them. We need to make people aware and what better way than a controversial ad campaign!

  4. by Melissa

    On December 14, 2007 at 8:47 am

    This campaign is the slap-in-the-face this country needs.

  5. by Whitney

    On December 14, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Looking at and reading those notes, actually made me cry. As a parent, presented with this, it might just jar them into action…thankfully, we do not have to deal with this, but even so, it affected me.

  6. by adrienne

    On December 14, 2007 at 10:16 am

    They make me feel hopeless. It’s not like there’s some intervention that can stop any of the diseases shown above (autism, bi-polar, and OCD).
    I wonder how young adults with these conditions will feel reading the signs and ads? I had college-aged students (one bipolar, one OCD and bipolar) who periodically attempted suicide. Those attempts were harrowing for family and friends- as were the subsequent visits to see those kids the hospital’s psychiatric ward. I can’t imagine how it feel for parents or siblings to see one of those ads after a visit like that. Somehow it seems like a bad reminder for anyone dealing with the illness and just visual noise for the general public.

  7. by Tracy Rizzo

    On December 14, 2007 at 11:08 am

    As a mother of a son with autism reading the autism ad made me cry -especially this is only the beginning line.That was something that made me feel sort of sucker punched-much as autism always has.I don’t know that I need that reminder-hope is what I need.
    Maybe it will be a wake up call to the general public, that has no idea how it feels-but also to the mother that clings to hope for her baby its heart wrenching.

  8. by Nicole

    On December 14, 2007 at 11:31 am

    I think we need to find another way to wake up our public. It’s just too hurtful to the families dealing with this. If my little boy had autism and I read that one ad, I’d feel so discouraged and hopeless. I think they’re going to far to get people’s attention. This isn’t something people choose for themselves – it’s so sad that families have to deal with this daily and we need a more loving way of getting the population to be supportive. Why not put together an ad campaign that shows what a person with a psychiatric disorder can do if they get the right treatment and support? It’s not as attention getting but it sends a message of hope and is more inspiring.

  9. by Besu

    On December 14, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    If these ads reflect hopelessness, that is because there IS hopelessness when facing these conditions. My 2-year old was just diagnosed with autism and I’m being drowned in bureaucracy trying to get him help. After four months of trying to get the diagnosis and eligibility to get therapy, now it turns out that all the therapists are totally booked or do not come to where I live! Discouraging? YES. In the meantime, we just try and help our son the best we can, even as the system is leaving us in despair. It is like being held hostage. Time is slipping away and we need help, and all I get are waiting lists.
    I only hope that New York’s early intervention is a heck of a lot better than Arizona’s. They’ll get a huge response to these ads, but it won’t do the families any good unless they can access the therapy and assistance they need.

  10. by Alexandra

    On December 14, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    I think it’s sick. Parents of those kids need UNDERSTANDING and REASSURANCE. I’m not sure these ads will bring up these emotions in public. They don’t show the light ahead, they show dead end.

  11. by Corey Martin

    On December 14, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    This are outrageous. They are so negative. I do not think it is helpful to parents or to those out there suffering. Its like telling a parent there is no hope!

  12. by Jean

    On December 14, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    There is already enough negative stereotype that goes on for children with these conditions. These ads just make them feel worse about themselves. Please pull them off.

  13. by Stimey

    On December 14, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    My son, who is on the road to an autism diagnosis WILL be able to care for himself. He WILL be able to interact socially. Austism does NOT have my son. My son has my son. Yes, it is only the beginning, but it is the beginning of a wonderful, valuable life.
    These ads are hurtful, and in many cases untrue. How about an awareness campaign that doesn’t imagine autistic people as less than other people?

  14. by Ashlyn'sMommy

    On December 15, 2007 at 4:52 am

    As a loving mother who is extremely proud of her autistic 4 yr old daughter and all the accomplishments she works so hard for, I was deeply offended and appalled by the Ransom Notes Campaign. These ads compare my child to someone who has been kidnapped… leading me to believe that they think she is no longer “there” because autism has somehow stolen her away. She is not an empty shell. First and foremost, she is a child, a living, breathing, thinking feeling, human being, and a very lovely one at that! I refuse to see my child as damaged goods, somehow lacking as a person. She is differently abled. How many so called “normal” kids can spell their name at 14 months or count to 20 in English and 12 in Spanish, recite all basic color names in both languages, knows all basic shapes and some that are a little more complicated like Pentagon, Octagon, and Hexagon, and so much more, ALL before their second birthdays? My child did this. She doesn’t have very good communication skills, she seems a little odd sometimes, and she doesn’t understand social interaction very well, but she is smart and funny and very loving. Yes, she requires some special help to learn how to function in a world with people who are very different than herself, but she is definitely not an empty shell. The negative connotation that this ad campaign brings to these children and their adult counterparts is extremely detrimental to their human rights and does absolutely nothing to bring the type of awareness needed to give these individuals what they need to function in society. Neurological research shows that the autistic person’s brain is actually wired differently. That does not mean that their brain is defective. Just different. We, the neurotypicals, as the autistic community refers to so called “normal” people, are expecting someone who’s mind works in a completely different manner than our own to be exactly like us, to think exactly like us. To me, that says that we are intolerant of anyone who isn’t like us. Not a very good way to be in my opinion. Ignorance is such a tragedy. Intolerance is dangerous. Misinformation is down-right lethal. This campaign is ill advised at the very least, but it could do real damage to the very community of individuals they seem to have intended to help. I hope that the NYU Child Study Center will please rethink it and pull the ads. In the future I hope that they and other groups like them will consider the human beings living with these challenges and the incredible effort they put into overcoming the ignorance and intolerance of the so called “normal” people of the world.

  15. by Ashlyn'sMommy

    On December 15, 2007 at 4:52 am

    As a loving mother who is extremely proud of her autistic 4 yr old daughter and all the accomplishments she works so hard for, I was deeply offended and appalled by the Ransom Notes Campaign. These ads compare my child to someone who has been kidnapped… leading me to believe that they think she is no longer “there” because autism has somehow stolen her away. She is not an empty shell. First and foremost, she is a child, a living, breathing, thinking feeling, human being, and a very lovely one at that! I refuse to see my child as damaged goods, somehow lacking as a person. She is differently abled. How many so called “normal” kids can spell their name at 14 months or count to 20 in English and 12 in Spanish, recite all basic color names in both languages, knows all basic shapes and some that are a little more complicated like Pentagon, Octagon, and Hexagon, and so much more, ALL before their second birthdays? My child did this. She doesn’t have very good communication skills, she seems a little odd sometimes, and she doesn’t understand social interaction very well, but she is smart and funny and very loving. Yes, she requires some special help to learn how to function in a world with people who are very different than herself, but she is definitely not an empty shell. The negative connotation that this ad campaign brings to these children and their adult counterparts is extremely detrimental to their human rights and does absolutely nothing to bring the type of awareness needed to give these individuals what they need to function in society. Neurological research shows that the autistic person’s brain is actually wired differently. That does not mean that their brain is defective. Just different. We, the neurotypicals, as the autistic community refers to so called “normal” people, are expecting someone who’s mind works in a completely different manner than our own to be exactly like us, to think exactly like us. To me, that says that we are intolerant of anyone who isn’t like us. Not a very good way to be in my opinion. Ignorance is such a tragedy. Intolerance is dangerous. Misinformation is down-right lethal. This campaign is ill advised at the very least, but it could do real damage to the very community of individuals they seem to have intended to help. I hope that the NYU Child Study Center will please rethink it and pull the ads. In the future I hope that they and other groups like them will consider the human beings living with these challenges and the incredible effort they put into overcoming the ignorance and intolerance of the so called “normal” people of the world.

  16. by j. caroline

    On December 15, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I feel the ads create what one commenter called a “wake up call”. I think the ads are meant for the parent who says “Why doesn’t that one boy in my child’s class just learn to behave?” “Why can’t his parents control him?” These are the people who it would never occur to them that their child or a classmate could have a serious psychiatric disorder that needs compassion, education and understanding (and maybe FUNDING). I don’t feel the ads belittle children with psychiatric problems or their long-term potential. And though I don’t like that the ads are obviously upsetting to parents that are dealing with the issues first hand, I do feel (and hope) that it will bring more financial, educational and emotional support for your children.
    I also think the basis of the campaign is interesting. Some people only respond to things that are “done to people” versus things they perceive to be the person’s fault. These ads might just be the catalyst some people need to realize that these are real disorders beyond a person’s control. Much like your child being kidnapped is not something you or your child did to yourself. And in both situations, you could use some help.

  17. by Liv

    On December 15, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    I am a teenager (14) with an older sister with autism. The ads scared me. They do not seem like my sister and I think that if I had a problem the advs. would make me be scared to see the doctor about it.

  18. by k shea

    On December 15, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    How dare anyone cast such a hurtful negative light onto an already overwelming diagnosis. As the parent to a child with low functioning autism I feel personally attacked by this add. My son has had intervention since 18 months and he is now 14 and still low functioning. These adds make me feel as though I did not do enough even though autism has been my whole life. I have noticed in the comments that the only people who really back these are the ones not personally dealing with this. We as the familys should have a say in this, not the public who by the way are only getting another negative statement out of this.

  19. by Lyme

    On December 15, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Hi. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I am on the autistic spectrum. I hold down a full-time job, own a house, graduated college, ETC. and I’m only 25.
    I care for myself. I interact with others socially on a daily basis.
    This ad campaign is utterly repugnant and incredibly insulting. Thanks for spreading the horrible stereotype that just because I’m autistic I’m incapable of living what others would consider a ‘normal life’ and that I’m less than human.
    The NYU Child Study Center should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

  20. by AA

    On December 16, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Hi,
    What if you all saw an ad like this?
    We have your son/daughter. Your child will die a slow painful death.
    Cancer
    Personally, I think the public would be outraged. But for some reason, it is ok to be extremely negative with the conditions that are featured.
    As an FYI, I have a non verbal learning disability, which some professionals consider to be on the autistic spectrum. As one who obviously understands the struggles involved with these disorders, I don’t think things should be sugar coated as these issues are serious.
    But these ads are absolutely the wrong way to bring attention to these disorders in my opinion and will simply bring more stigmitization.
    AA

  21. by Allen

    On December 16, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    This ad campaign is an effort to promote childhood mental illnesses and, by implication, the drugs that are used off-label on children with serious emotional and developmental problems.
    I am an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. I am deeply offended by this campaign and its images, which I consider to be obscene.
    I and others like me will not rest until this campaign is ended.

  22. by Elyse Bruce

    On December 16, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Interestingly enough, I found this quote in a book: “[quote] … Care must be taken, at least in our nation, that the deadliest enemy is recognized, and that the battle against the enemy is seen as the shining symbol of a brighter day … [end quote]”
    I was amazed at how much it sounds like the ‘basis’ for the “Ransom Notes” campaign.
    What bothered me about this similarity was that the quote was from “Deutscher National-Katechismus” 2nd edition (Breslau: Verlag von Heinrich Handel, 1934).
    For those who do not speak German, when the book’s title is translated from German to English, the “Deutscher National-Katechismus” is the “German National Catechism.” This book was approved anti-Semitic material for all German schools in 1934.
    How very sad to see that things have not changed very much in the last 70 plus years.
    Asperger Syndrome and Autism do not hold children ransom. The attitudes of certain people hold children ransom.

  23. by Thomas D. Taylor

    On December 16, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    I am deeply offended by these ads and look forward to a nationwide boycott of New York University’s Child Study Center and all those affiliated with.
    This ad campaign will cause me and my family to boycott visiting New York and new York State.
    I am going to make sure that everyone knows the damage this insipid campaign has done to those with the dignoses targeted, and we will be sure to spread the word.

  24. by Judith

    On December 16, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I am the mother of a nonverbal four-year old boy on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Althought there is much love and happiness in our family, autism causes even the easiest of tasks, particularly communication, to be excruciatingly difficult.
    I completely believe in my son’s potential, but I wish life didn’t have to be so damn hard for him.
    I am thankful that the general public is being made aware that many, many children are suffering and deserve our help.

  25. by Ettina

    On December 17, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    I am autistic and also have PTSD.
    I do feel trapped by my PTSD sometimes, but never by autism. Autism is simply part of who I am. PTSD is the effect some negative experiences (including interacting with teachers who were intolerant of any differences and determined to treat me like I was a damaged and defective child) have had on me. These ads will not reduce the stigma of having these conditions – they will increase it.
    You could have an attention-getting ad which isn’t so upsetting and offensive. For example, what if you had an ad showing an alien standing among a bunch of people and underneath it said ‘Imagine if you never knew there was anyone else like you. Now imagine finding out that 1 out of a 100 people are like you. Asperger Syndrome. Connection is possible.’ That would reflect well what it’s like for autistics, and the sight of an alien would grab peoples’ attention. And you could perhaps have the alien depicted showing typically autistic types of misunderstanding – for example showing someone saying ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ and the alien looks puzzled and has a thought bubble showing cats and dogs falling from the sky. Or a teacher saying ‘don’t get smart with me!’ and the alien replying ‘but I really *can’t* go in my desk! I can only fit my arm in.’

  26. by PCDWestby

    On December 18, 2007 at 11:34 am

    To protest the ads go to the petition that has been developed. There are 1048 signatures so far.
    The petition has been endorsed by 20 disability rights organizations.
    The “information” in the ads is inaccurate and misleading.
    What will happen if a depressed child or teen reads it and thinks there really is no hope? What will happen if some bully-type person decides to act out the idea in the ads?

  27. by The AS Man

    On December 18, 2007 at 11:42 am

  28. by Kassiane

    On December 18, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Anyone remember, circa 1998, the “if 1 in 166 children were being kidnapped we’d have a national emergency? We do, it’s called autism.” tshirts? Yeah. TEN YEARS AGO.
    Those were vomit worthy too. Those spread stigma without a drop of actual information too. And those treated autistic people as less than human too.
    Going with this campaign at all is a display of the worst lack of empathy there is. Refusing to listen to people who are offended by it-many who grew up with one or more of the conditions, including the ones that “make us unable to communicate” (yet here we are communicating) is more into the realm of not giving a rat’s posterior.
    Truly disgusting.

  29. by Kaye Keene

    On December 18, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    To my knowledge, autism is NOT a Psychiatric Disorder, but rather a neurogological disorder. What happened to all the material I have read during the years…never heard it called mental before, except for billing purposes. Thus, your ads are extremely misleading!

  30. by Robert

    On December 19, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    These ads are geared towards people with untreated psychiatric disorders. There are many kids in middle and lower income families who have these disorders and are never diagnosed or correctly treated. These parents know there is a problem, but they don’t know what it is. For many of these children, it is a snowball effect. They don’t do well at school. They have low self worth. They become an outsider in society. In fact, you’ll find that many inmates in our correctional systems suffer from psychiatric disorders that were never treated in childhood.
    It’s easy for a white upper middle class parents to find help and support for their children and to put them in an environment where they can live productive lives. Unfortunately it’s not so easy for the poor and minorities.
    It will be a shame if this boycott works and these ads are taken down, because not only will the people who they are meant to reach, the untreated, suffer, but society as a whole suffers.

  31. by Moira

    On December 20, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I don’t agree that the ads represent “a lack of empathy”. I don’t agree that the ads come across as saying “there is no hope”. I also don’t agree that the ads “are hurtful and negative”. I don’t think you can compare this to cancer. My son has been diagnosed with OCD and is still being observed for ODD and Bi-polar disorder. These ads are the truth. Without help – which is what is being advertised – our children, our friends, our parents, our brothers and sisters and us ourselves are held hostage. These ads are representing the truth. And they’ve got people talking about the disease(s) shown, so mission accomplished.

  32. by Elyse Bruce

    On December 21, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Robert, Dr. Koplewicz referred to these disabilities as PSYCHOTIC disorders in media interviews.
    You have written that “[quote] there are many kids in middle and lower income families who have these disorders and are never diagnosed or correctly treated [end quote].” There are many from upper income families who have those disorders as well adn are never diagnosed or correctly treated. That’s not the point of the advertising campaign.
    You also said that “[quote] these parents know there is a problem, but they don’t know what it is [end quote].” The fact is that many parents who have a different child are quite happy to ignore the problem until it isn’t their problem anymore or to pretend there aren’t any problems at all. That’s poor parenting and poor parenting can’t be overcome with cold, hard cash.
    You went on to say that “[quote] for many of these children, it is a snowball effect. They don’t do well at school. They have low self worth. They become an outsider in society. In fact, you’ll find that many inmates in our correctional systems suffer from psychiatric disorders that were never treated in childhood [end quote].” Oddly enough, there are far more inmates who are the result of absent or poor parenting.
    As the parent of an autistic, I can tell you that money doesn’t mean that there’s more hope for an autistic child. Involved parenting means there’s more hope for an autistic child.
    Moira, the good doctor is the one who mentioned cancer in a newspaper interview that dealt with the “Ransom Notes” campaign. If Dr. Koplewicz feels it’s fine to compare cancer to the disabilities that were targeted in the advertising campaign, you should take that up with Dr. Koplewicz.
    And contrary to popular Hollywood mythology, it is not correct that “any news is good news” and that publicity is “great as long as they spell the name right.”
    The ads in question misrepresent the truth.
    These are increasingly dangerous times for individuals who aren’t perceived to be ‘bell curve normal.’

  33. by A.S.

    On December 23, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    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
    ken@invemed.com
    Martin Lipton, Board of Trustee Chairman
    New York University
    mlipton@wlrk.com
    John Sexton, President
    New York University
    john.sexton@nyu.edu

  34. by Miranda

    On December 26, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    I believe, because of the controversy, these ads are going to spark curiosity because parents whose lives are not affected by these neurological-NOT psychotic- disorders will at the very least be aware of the breadth and depth of the lack of support in the legislature. Jenny McCarthy, a celebrity, had hardships with her autistic son. The more people speak out to our legislators and the more people become involved, the more comprehension we may have about these disorders. I have four children, and my heart goes out to the parents who deal with the struggles of parenthood compounded by the challenges of autism, bi-polar disorder, Asperger’s, OCD, and other neurological disorders. I especially appreciated the posts from a first person perspective.
    The ads certainly got my attention, but I do wonder if there is a less jarring but equally effective method of raising awareness. The ads do seem to be offending a lot of people directly affected by these conditions.

  35. by Audrey

    On December 30, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    I fail to see how these ads could be hurtful. It seems like parents of affected children, especially, should be grateful for the ads. If anything, the ads are helping to get the word out, as in “Hello America. This is a real problem, it’s not just something you see on televison!”
    I have OCD, and I like the ad for it. First of all it tells others that some things are just uncontrollable. And secondly, it shows that it can happen to anyone.
    For the undiagnosed kids out there who have autism or who have other psychiatric disorders, they deserve help. They deserve a chance at life. When caught early these things can be worked with, little by little. Of course they’re incurable, but every parent would want to help their child, even if only a tiny bit.
    Honestly. People these days are so sensitive. Why get bent out of shape about nothing? These ads are for our BENEFIT!

  36. by Elyse Bruce

    On January 2, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Why get out of shape, Audrey? Because the manner in which the autism and Asperger ads were constructed and the manner in which people like you are fine with those very ads is the same way that pre WWII Germans were ok with what would eventually become the horror of WWII for disabled individuals, gypsies, homosexuals, Jews, et al.
    If you are fine with supporting an insiduous advertising campaign to raise funds for a center that obviously does not respect those individuals they are treating, that is your prerogative.
    Do not for a minute think that those against whom these ads are discriminating are going to sit by idly while our children with autism are negatively stereotyped, marginalized, diminished and, eventually, eradicated.
    Autism is GENETIC. There is no CURE.
    That being siad, our children are NOT being held ransom by their neurological differences. If anything, they are being held ransom and being abused by those who claim to be experts in the field of autism and they are being supported by individuals who are ignorant of the facts.