NEWS ARCHIVES - YEAR 1999
National Stigma Clearinghouse
245 Eighth Ave, #213
New York, NY 10011
Please scroll down for earliest entries, which begin in July 1999.
December 26, 1999 - News
of the Week
The following comments are based on an article that
appeared in the Jan/Feb 1998 issue of EXTRA!, the newsletter of FAIR
(Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). FAIR's website is www.fair.org. Tel: (212) 633-6700.
REPORTING VIOLENCE AS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE
Jane Stevens, a science and technology reporter, and Lori Dorfman, a
public health researcher, propose that reporters include a public
health perspective in their coverage of violent events. Stevens and
Dorfman argue that knowing the social context of violence helps the
public to frame appropriate public policy responses.
Today, for example, reporters writing about auto crashes will include
surrounding circumstances -- the driver was drunk, the passengers
weren't wearing seat belts, or the intersection had a history of
crashes. The readers gain useful knowledge beyond the details of the
Mental health activists will appreciate the value of this theory. When
a mental illness is involved, reporting all too often plays up
sensationalism, rushes to judgment, and exploits violence for political
ends. Only rarely, as when The New York Times this year exposed the
dire negligence that led to a death in the New York subway, does a true
picture emerge. The Times's exposure of the dysfunctional mental health
system in this high-profile case points unmistakably to policy change.
Stevens and Dorfman say that reporting on crime and violence
traditionally reflects the criminal justice point of view, but that
this is just one way to interpret what happened. Public health
reporting incorporates social factors and alerts the public to the
human and financial costs. A blending of the two approaches would be
Stevens' and Dorfman's ideal, and they have prepared a handbook for
journalists, "Reporting on Violence," to help reporters expand their
For a copy of the EXTRA! article, "New Questions About Crime Coverage,"
by Barbara Bliss Osborn, e-mail your request to the National Stigma
Remember to give us your mailing address.
December 12, 1999 - News
of the Week
A VALUABLE NEW BOOK, TELLING
IS RISKY BUSINESS, IS NOW AVAILABLE
Students and presenters often ask us where they
can find authentic information about living with a mental illness. "I
want my audience to get a true sense of the unjust prejudice. All I've
found are pre-digested references to the shattering impact of a
psychiatric diagnosis," callers say.
We're now able to refer our callers to Otto Wahl's new book, Telling Is Risky Business, a compendium
of experiences of psychiatric survivors in their own words. Wide
readership among the general public will make Telling
Is Risky Business a major contributor to the breakdown of
Like Dr. Wahl's first book, Media Madness:
Public Images of Mental Illness, Telling Is Risky Business
is certain to become a valuable resource in the mental health field.
Both books belong in every library and on every informed American's
December 5, 1999 - News
of the Week
TAC MEETS STIFF OPPOSITION IN ST. LOUIS
TAC'S FEAR TACTICS STIR UP BAD WILL
In its nationwide push for stiffer laws to compel psychotropic
medication, the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) of Arlington, Virginia,
has met angry resistance in St. Louis from MadNation, a St. Louis-based
cyber-network of psychiatric survivors.
TAC's use of inaccurate information and statistics has raised the wrath
of Vicki Fox Wieselthier, MadNation's founder, who is leading a
David-and-Goliath battle against TAC's forced-treatment campaign in
TAC first tested its strategy in New York, where it "capitalized on the
fear of violence" (their words) to win a forced-treatment law in
August. (See News Archive for August).
By playing the public-safety card, TAC won a tough law that nearly
everyone finds fault with. Still needed are housing, community support
services, and medical care for thousands of mentally ill people who are
living with elderly parents, and thousands more who are already
destitute on the streets of New York.
TAC's fear campaign left a poisonous aftermath which has fueled
hysterical accusations and acts of violence against "the mentally ill"
of New York City. MadNation is determined to prevent such a dismal
setback in St. Louis.
November 28, 1999 - News
of the Week (Item 1) .
TELEVISION DRAMAS PERPETUATE STIGMA OF THE MOST
Characters portrayed as mentally ill are depicted as the most dangerous
of all demographic groups
According to a recent study by the Cultural Indicators Project in
Philadelphia, television characters portrayed as having a mental
illness were shown involved in crime at a rate four and one-half times
higher than the average rate for characters without mental disability.
Mentally ill characters were shown as violent at a rate three times
higher than the average for other characters.
Mentally ill characters were depicted as dangerous in 60% of their
roles, as compared to an average of 20% for other groups. The second
"most dangerous" characters, those of non-U.S. origin, were portrayed
as dangerous in 30% of their roles. Characters appearing in fewer than
the average number of dangerous roles are African American, Asian
Pacific, and white female.
The researchers sampled 6,882 characters from prime time television
during 1994-1997, comprising eight groups: mentally disabled, non-U.S.
origin, Native American, white male, Latin Hispanic, African American,
Asian Pacific, and white female. For a copy of the report, call the
Screen Actors Guild, (323) 549-6650. Or click the Screen Actors Guild
The Cultural Indicators Project has monitored the cultural impact of
television on society for over thirty years, under the leadership of
George Gerbner, Dean Emeritus of the Annenberg School for Communication
at the University of Pennsylvania.
The study reaffirms the need for activists to insist on accuracy and
balance in media depictions of characters cast as "mentally ill."
November 28, 1999 - News of the Week
LET'S STOP THE SPREAD OF INACCURATE, INFLAMMATORY
TAC's Numbers on Homicide Rates in U.S. Are Misleading and
On Monday, in St. Louis, Vicki Wieselthier of www.MadNation.org alerted us to a
television news promo that blasted KSDK's daytime viewers throughout
the day with the bogus statement, "1,000 homicides are committed
annually by mentally ill people." Working fast, Vicki alerted St. Louis
advocates and the ad was later pulled.
Missouri psychiatrists quickly faxed their objections to KSDK (excerpt
below, from www.MadNation.org ):
I wish to convey our great concern about
the portrayal of psychiatric patients in the upcoming report. The
promotion I saw this morning spoke about the "1,000 murders committed
each year by persons with mental illness." No reputable scientific data
supports the assertion about 1,000 murders, and this inflammatory
language does a disservice to a vulnerable population who are much more
likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of crime and violence.
The fear of people with mental illness engendered by this inaccurate
portrayal leads to stigma and makes it harder for people in recovery to
obtain housing, employment, and develop relationships with their
Unfortunately, murders by people believed to be mentally ill make news,
while murders by people who are not mentally ill often don't make news.
Think about a frightening comparison: if every time a murder was
committed by a young African American male, would you emphasize the
race and gender of the assailant in your reports? If you did, there
would be justified cries of public outrage from every civil rights
organization in the country. Wilson M, Compton, M.D., President,
Eastern Missouri Psychiatric Association.
The statement, "1,000 homicides..." was created by the Treatment
Advocacy Center (TAC) in Arlington, Virginia, to win support for forced
psychotropic medication. TAC postulates that people with untreated
schizophrenia and manic-depression (1.4 million people -- less than 1%
of the U.S. adult population) commit 5% of the nation's murders. The
frequent use of the quote is part of TAC's strategy to "capitalize on
fear" to attain stiffer forced-treatment laws.
TAC cites the U.S. Department of Justice as the source of its homicide
information. This is incorrect.
The DOJ, in a 1994 study using 1988 homicide data from 33 urban
counties in 20 states, tried to discover the histories of individuals
who had committed homicide. The data indicated some history of mental
illness in 4.3% of those homicides. But contrary to TAC's explicit
claims, the study makes no mention of "untreated" mental illness;
neither does it mention schizophrenia, manic-depression or any
diagnosis. Furthermore, the data is limited to large urban counties.
Also, the DOJ study found that 44% of the homicide victims had
criminal records, which seems surprising. All in all, the study does
not support the conclusions TAC claims.
TAC arbitrarily raised the DOJ's homicide estimate from 4.3% to 5%.
Then they arbitrarily attributed these homicides to less than 1% of the
U.S. population, the number TAC says have "untreated schizophrenia and
manic-depression." In another error: 4.3% of 16,914 (the total
homicides in 1998) is 727, not 1,000 as TAC claims. And DOJ's
predictions for 1999 will lower the figure still further to 645.
We could apply TAC's inventive manipulation of research data to prove
an opposite conclusion from theirs. The National Institute of Mental
Health estimates that 22 % of the U.S. population has a diagnosable
mental illness. We can assume that if 22% percent of people currently
have a mental illness, at least that many have a history of
Then, using the DOJ report's estimate that people with "a history of
mental illness" commit 4.3% of the nation's homicides, it would follow
that 22% of the adult population is responsible for 4.3% of homicides,
and 78% of the population is responsible for 95.7% of homicides. In
other words, "mentally ill" people are much less homicidal than
"non-mentally ill" people.
November 21, 1999 - News
of the Week
TIME MAGAZINE TAKES NOTE OF RECOVERY
PROGRAMS THAT WORK
"Working Their Way Back: drugs and therapy help, but many mentally ill
also need social rehab. Here's how it succeeds." TIME magazine,
November 22, p. 70-71.
TIME correspondent James Willwerth describes a variety of programs that
spur recoveries from mental illness. This excellent report is a welcome
shift of focus in a year when fear tactics and forced-treatment
publicity dominated the media.
November 21, 1999 (Item 2).
A HECTIC WEEK OF CONTRASTS: INFLAMATORY HEADLINES AND CALLS FOR REASON
Fear-mongering headlines blasting "deranged" "violent crazies"
plastered the New York Daily News (11/19) after an unknown
brick-thrower attacked a young woman in mid-Manhattan. A Daily News
editorial, untypically placed on page 1, levelled a venomous blast at
mentally ill New Yorkers in a near-hysterical rush to judgment.
The next day, the New York Times (11/20), also untypically, rebuked the
Daily New's handling of the attack with a special report by Alan Feuer.
Feuer quoted criticism by media experts who called the Daily New's
reaction to the random assault "paranoid," "destructive," and "odd."
On 11/19, the Times ran a thoughtful article by Jennifer Steinhauer
about the public's disproportionate fear of mentally ill people. Other
recent reports have exposed New York's shameful history of negligence
in the care and treament of people diagnosed with mental illnesses.
The roller-coaster press coverage continued on November 21, when a
Daily News columnist, Jim Dwyer, used strong language to lay the blame
where it belongs. Dwyer wrote a stunning summing-up of callous neglect,
"Pataki Shut Door, Opened Streets."
For copies of any of the above articles, e-mail your request to the
National Stigma Clearinghouse: email@example.com.
Remember to give us your mailing address.
November 14, 1999 - News
of the Week
IN WAKE OF ANDREW GOLDSTEIN CASE, EXPERTS
OUTLINE HARD WORK AHEAD TO RE-SHAPE AND COORDINATE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
Appearing in today's New York Times (11/14) is an excellent report by
Erica Goode on the dysfunctional mental health system in New York. In
"Experts Say State Mental Health System Defies Easy Repair," Goode
reports a common concern among experts that "...it will take much more
than money and some additional beds to turn a chaotic, vastly
overburdened system into a system that works."
The article identifies an even more formidable problem -- public
opinion -- and states that what is required is "a basic attitudinal
shift in a society that has long stigmatized mental illness: to treat
patients as real prospects for recovery, and to offer attractive, high
quality services that patients actually want and will accept."
The story of Andrew Goldstein and thousands like him, exposed by Times
staffers Michael Winerip, Erica Goode, Nina Bernstein, and others, may
initiate a turning point in public awareness and official negligence.
Unfortunately, damage done by forced-treatment advocates, who falsely
labeled Goldstein "treatment-resistent" in a fear campaign to win
passage of Kendra's Law, leaves a lasting mark.
For a copy of "Experts Say State Mental Health System Defies Easy
Repair," e-mail your request to the National Stigma Clearinghouse,
Remember to give us your mailing address.
November 7, 1999 - News
of the Week
SURVIVOR-ACTIVIST Joseph A. Rogers SUMS UP A
COSTLY, PAIN-FILLED MENTAL HEALTH FAILURE
Joe Rogers points out misguided expenditures on Kendra's Law in a
letter to the New York Times on November 6. (Consider also the Webdale
family's $70 million lawsuit against the system's hospitals that
withheld mental health care.)
"Re 'Report Faults Care of Man Who Pushed
Woman Onto Tracks' " (New York Times news article, Nov. 5):
The tragedy of Andrew Goldstein and Kendra Webdale is compounded by the
fact that Mr. Goldstein could have lived in a group home in the
community for a fraction of the amount that New York State spent on his
repeated short stays in the hospital.
Mr. Goldstein had done well in such a place, and he had taken his
medication. He wanted to go back there, but there was no room.
It is unfortunate that Gov. George E. Pataki, who had cut New York's
budget for community-based mental health services, has signed Kendra's
Law, which will further drain resources that could have been put to
better use in the new and innovative mental health initiatives that he
is said to be planning.
Joseph Rogers is executive director of the National
Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse, Philadelphia,
October 31, 1999 - News
of the Week
SLURS SET THE TONE FOR A NEW PRIME TIME SITCOM ON NBC
NBC uses "crazy, batty, deranged, looney,
demented" and more, in its theme song for a new TV series, "Stark
The show may do better than many people expected. Despite poor reviews
by TV critics, it has gotten high audience ratings. Some say the
ratings are guaranteed by its slot in NBC's popular Thursday night
The question for stigmabusters is, does "Stark Raving Mad" offend?
Based on the title and theme song, the answer is a definite yes.
Sue Hammill and her daughter deciphered the lyrics, as did Otto Wahl;
''Batty, Bonkers, Crazy ...Loopy, Looney, Hazy ...Chaotic, Neurotic
...Peculiar and Amazing ...Demented, Deranged ...Particularly Strange
...Frantic, Fraidy, Shady, Ffakey ...Making me insane." These are
stigmatizing slurs by any standard.
It is too soon to assess the content of the series. There is concern,
however, that if the show succeeds imitations are bound to follow.
Until NBC changes the title and theme song, we cannot accept their
assurance that "Stark Raving Mad" is non-exploitative. If we remain
silent in the face of language that derides and stigmatizes, we assent
Contact NBC by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For addresses of NBC executives, contact us at email@example.com.
For earlier news and letters about "Stark Raving Mad" go to the News
October 17, 1999 - News
of the Week
VOTER EMPOWERMENT DRIVE IS A FRONT PAGE STORY IN THE NEW
YORK TIMES, OCTOBER 13.
The extraordinary advocacy of Ken Steele, a New
York psychiatric survivor-activist, has twice inspired major reports in
the New York Times.
Most recently, the Times reported on a voter-empowerment project
conceived by Steele in 1994 that encourages Americans who are diagnosd
with mental illness to assert the power of their votes.
The non-partisan project registers voters, then instructs them to learn
the candidates' priorities and vote accordingly. Steele, joined by the
National Mental Health Association, intends to register the number of
voters needed to tackle thorny mental health issues too long ignored.
For a copy of the Times article, E-mail your request to the National
Stigma Clearinghouse: firstname.lastname@example.org
September 26, 1999 - News of the
ON PUBLIC TELEVISION...Otto
Wahl, author of Media Madness: Public Images
of Mental Illness, will appear on "HealthWeek" on PBS public
television stations nationwide during the week of October 2-8. Check
local PBS TV listings for the day and time of the broadcast in your
area. In the tri-state New York area, "HealthWeek" is scheduled for
Saturday afternoon, October 2, at 3:00 PM on WNET Channel 13.
The half-hour program will focus on how mental illness is represented
in films and the problems that film portrayals pose. Take this
opportunity to save the program on videotape for
future use in educating family and community groups.
Dr. Wahl's second book, Telling Is Risky
Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma will soon
be reaching bookstores and libraries. For more information, click Otto Wahl's Home Page.
September 26, 1999 (Item 2)
"Stark Raving Mad" (see News of the Week Archive, September 12 and 19))
has come and may soon be gone. Robert Bianco, TV critic for USA
TODAY,panned the premiere as well as two episodes made available to
critics for preview. Bianco's verdict, shared by other critics, was
"Humorless sitcom not worth the time." Mental illness baffles most
Americans. At society's present level of awareness, humor, if used,
should enlighten and heal. If you want to comment to NBC, click email@example.com.
Return to Top
September 12, 1999 - News of the
"STARK RAVING MAD" WILL PREMIERE ON
The show is set to follow Frasier on Thursdays at 9:30 EDT on NBC. For
background and mailing address, see News of the Week Archive for the
week of 8/22/99. The E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although NBC claims the sitcom has nothing to do with mental illness,
TV Guide quotes Steven Levitan, the producer, as saying, "It's about
two people who are crazy in different ways. I'm fascinated by people
who, if not for their talent, would be dead or homeless or in an
By all accounts, "Stark Raving Mad" is a slapstick one-note attempt at
humor based on Hollywood's version of "crazy." Mental health activists
are protesting the name and exploitative content of the show.
Michael Faenza of the National Mental Health Association sent an
outraged letter to NBC in June asking the network to change the name of
the series and reformulate the characters. Faenza wrote, "Stigma, one
of the biggest obstacles to getting treatment for people with mental
illness, is deeply rooted in our popular culture. Entertainment that
belittles mental illness or perpetuates stereotypes of the mentally ill
cements that stigma. But the entertainment industry also has the
capability to enlighen and dissipate stereotypes. I challenge you to
consider whether NBC can stop being part of the problem and start being
part of the solution.
Susanne Hammill in Granada Hills, CA, who saw the show's promo in early
August with a daughter who has schizophrenia, begged NBC to change the
name from "Stark Raving Mad." "This blatant insensitivity is just
amazing to me. Your sponsors need to know that this progam will insult
millions of individuals and families who are struggling with heartbreak
Paul Jay Fink, M.D., writing as past president of the American
Psychiatric Association, the American College of Psychiatrists, and the
National Association of Psychiatric Healthcare Programs, said, "I am
appalled and dismayed at the idea you are planning a regular sitcom
called "Stark Raving Mad." Fink called the overuse of stereotypes
irresponsible and "close to unethical."
The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association, an
organization representing a constituency of 23 million adults, wrote,
"We join others from the mental health community in protest of the name
of your new show, "Stark Raving Mad," and its alleged comic references
to psychiatric illnesses. According to your press materials, the show
is about two different versions of crazy. Words like "crazy,"
"demented," and "stark raving mad" do not describe the pain and
suffering of these illnesses nor their impact on relationships. Will
the characters in "Stark Raving Mad" be shown compassion when symptoms
of anxiety and panic manifest -- or will Ian Stark and Henry McNeely be
singled out and ridiculed for behavior that has neurological roots?"
Shawn Galbreath of Challenge Industries in Ithaca, NY told NBC "I think
you would not be launching a series on the "laughs" of cancer,
diabetes, or Alzheimer's. I understand that you may not realize the
negative effect this type of programming will have on adults and
children. I believe you will do the right thing and not captalize on
the suffering and fears of people."
The National Stigma Clearinghouse wrote, "The title alone is demeaning.
The characters, if one can judge from NBC's preview description, are
walking stereotypes. We are discouraged to see NBC take this giant step
backward. It's like launching a new comedy series called "Stepin'
Stella March of NAMI's Anti-Stigma E-mail Network alerted her members
that "Stark Raving Mad" will be closely monitored for content that
demeans mental illness.
WE URGE ALL MEMBERS OF THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMUNITY TO VOICE THEIR
OBJECTIONS TO ENTERTAINMENT THAT EXPLOITS, MISLEADS, AND DEMEANS.
Give NBC your views. Click email@example.com.
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September 5, 1999 -
News of the Week
DEADLY STEREOTYPING IN NEW YORK: 12 Police
Bullets Kill Mentally Ill Man
On August 30, a mentally ill man armed only with a hammer was slain in
the street by a 12-bullet barrage from six policemen.
Outrage at the slaying may signal that New Yorkers will no longer
tolerate a makeshift community mental health system.
Letters to the New York Times (9/6/99), triggered by an editorial by
Bob Herbert (9/2/99), cited as culprits an underfunded and overburdened
mental health system and an unprepared police force, creating
"dangerously false stereotypes about ]people with serious mental
A recent violence-based campaign conducted by the Treatment Advocacy
Center (TAC), which misrepresented a mentally ill man to win
forced-treatment legislation, may influence actions of undertrained
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August 29, 1999 - News
of the Week
"Unlabeled,'" an inspiring 55-minute documentary tracing the growth of
the consumers' empowerment movement in Pennsylvania. Introduced by
Tipper Gore, "Unlabeled" is about individuals who, over time, have
taken charge of their illness and in the process have brought greater
understanding to all whose lives they touch. Stunning video production
by Dream Catchers, Inc. For information contact PMHCA (Pennsylvania
Mental Health Consumers' Association), TEL: 717-564-4930, FAX:
August 15, 1999 - News of the
A RUSH TO JUDGMENT?
An assault weapon attack, reportedly with clear anti-Semitic and white
supremacist motives, prompted Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a prominent
spokesperson for NAMI, to appear on the CBS Evening News on August 12
to warn the public about people with mental illnesses.
Dr. Torrey's rush to label the assailant mentally ill is consistent
with his agenda for forced medication. but hatred is not a mental
illness and no psychiatric drug can make it go away.
August 8, 1999 - News of the Week
A STIGMATIZING CAMPAIGN WINS VOTES
The New York State Legislature has passed one of the most extreme
involuntary outpatient commitment laws in the nation, "Kendra's Law."
The law's main proponent, the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), framed
forced medication as a public safety issue after a mentally ill man
pushed a young woman to her death in the New York subway. The fact that
the assailant had literally begged for psychiatric treatment -- but was
repeatedly turned away by an underfunded mental health system -- was
buried in a flood of public outrage at the tragic death.
But as Assemblywoman Deborah Glick pointed out, "We've had too many
bills with names that carry an emotionalism that dissuade proper public
Return to TOP
August 1, 1999 - News
of the Week
A MARKETING STRATEGY CREATES STIGMA
TAC campaign capitalizes on fear -- and misinformation --to promote
court-ordered psychotropic medication
The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) in Arlington,Virginia has persuaded
the New York State legislature to consider a sweeping law ("Kendra's
Law") that would put psychiatric patients in New York at risk of
court-ordered commitment and forced medication. The new law would
empower a variety of complainants to seek court orders based on their
belief of need.
The marketing strategy for "Kendra's Law" is based on the premise that
a subway assailant with mental illness had refused to accept treatment
and required coercion. In fact, the man had tried in vain to get
treatment. He voluntarily committed himself to psychiatric care 13
times, only to be dismissed and abandoned by an underfunded mental
health system. To support their argument,TAC similarly misrepresents a
number of other cases and research findings.
To its credit, the New York legislature has withheld its approval of
the proposed bill and is exploring non-repressive alternatives that
show good treatment outcomes.
JULY 1999 - News
JUST RELEASED by the Anti-Stigma Project
in Baltimore: a 30-minute video, "Stigma...in our Work, in Our Lives."
A discussion guide is included. For information: Tel 410-646-0262. Web www.onourown.org
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