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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 Tel: (212) 633-6700.


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 accident scene.

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 framework.

For a copy of the EXTRA! article, "New Questions About Crime Coverage," by Barbara Bliss Osborn, e-mail your request to the National Stigma Clearinghouse, Remember to give us your mailing address.

December 12, 1999 - News of the Week


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 stigma.

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 bookshelf.

December 5, 1999 - News of the Week



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 Missouri.

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) .


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 website:

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 (Item 2)


TAC's Numbers on Homicide Rates in U.S. Are Misleading and Unsubstantiated

On Monday, in St. Louis, Vicki Wieselthier of 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 ):
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 neighbors.

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 mental illness.

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


"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).


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: Remember to give us your mailing address.

November 14, 1999 - News of the Week


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 " 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, click Remember to give us your mailing address.

November 7, 1999 - News of the Week


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, Pennsylvania.

October 31, 1999 - News of the Week

NBC uses "crazy, batty, deranged, looney, demented" and more, in its theme song for a new TV series, "Stark Raving Mad."

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 lineup.

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 to it.

Contact NBC by e-mail at For addresses of NBC executives, contact us at

For earlier news and letters about "Stark Raving Mad" go to the News Archive.

October 17, 1999 - News of the Week


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:

September 26, 1999 - News of the Week


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

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September 12, 1999 - News of the Week

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

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 institution."

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 illnesses."

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' Fetchit."

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.


Give NBC your views. Click

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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 illness."

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 police.

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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: 717-564-4708

August 15, 1999 - News of the Week


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


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 policy discussion."

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August 1, 1999 - News of the Week


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, " our Work, in Our Lives." A discussion guide is included. For information: Tel 410-646-0262. Web







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