National Stigma Clearinghouse
NEWS ARCHIVE - YEAR 2001 (JULY-DEC)
Please scroll down for July 2001 archives.
December 30, 2001 - News
of the Week
A MEDICAL WRITER BECOMES AN ANTI-STIGMA ACTIVIST
PREJUDICE TURNS INTO EMPATHY
Miriam Davis was the chief medical writer for U.S. Surgeon General
David Satcher's report on the nation's mental health issued in December
of 1999. The project gave Ms. Davis a new understanding of the
prejudice that surrounds mental illnesses; her own bias was transformed
to empathy in the process. Now Ms. Davis is working on a book about
stigma and mental illnesses with Howard H. Goldman, the senior
scientific editor of the Surgeon General's report.
Ms. Davis stated in The Washington Post last week (article below) that
her chapter on stigma in the Surgeon General's report was inspired in
large part by discrimination against John Forbes Nash, Jr., a math
genius who in 1994 won a Nobel prize in the field of economics for work
done early in his career. Nash's history of mental illness became an
issue during his selection and nearly cost him the prize.
In the 1970's when Ms. Davis was a graduate student at Princeton, Mr.
Nash had been a forlorn presence on campus, ravaged by the effects of
schizophenia. It was not until 1998, while Davis was working on the
Surgeon General's report, that she learned the details of Nash's story
from his bigraphy by Sylvia Nasar, "A Beautiful Mind." (The Nash
biography is the subject of a movie just released, also titled "A
Below is the Washington Post article by Miriam Davis. It is a
fascinating account of discovery, sensitivity, and commitment to change.
"LEARNING FROM A TROUBLED GENIUS
When 25 Years Ago the Author Met John Nash, the Nobel-Winning
Schizophrenic, She Behaved Badly. She's Beginning to Understand Why.
By Miriam Davis
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
His shorts were a bright plaid, glaringly different from the pattern on
his shirt. On his feet he wore red sneakers. On the self-consciously
earth-toned Princeton campus of 1976, he stood out.
"Who's that?" I asked my friends in the math department about the
odd-looking figure who hung around the math area, which faced the
biology lab where I'd begun working on my doctorate.
"Oh, that's Nash," came the reply.
"Who's he?" I persevered.
"He's crazy, but he won't hurt you." End of discussion.
That was my introduction to math genius John Nash -- years before he
was awarded his Nobel prize in economics, years before his recovery
from schizophrenia, years before the release of the film version of his
biography, "A Beautiful Mind," which is scheduled to arrive in theaters
in January. And years before I began to care about the stigma of mental
I didn't question my friends' dismissiveness. Nash's illness reduced
him to insignificance for me, as it did for so many others.
Like them, I grew accustomed to seeing "The Ghost of Fine Hall," as he
was known, in and around the math department where he had been a
fixture for years -- a department in which he no longer had any formal
affiliation but where all knew of his former glory. Outside Princeton,
many academics assumed he was dead.
The trouble was that I saw this dead man walking everywhere on campus.
He could hardly be missed. Hunch-shouldered, arms hanging, he wandered
the grounds wearing a vacant expression and the same mismatched plaids
in all weather, regardless of season. He muttered to himself and made
no eye contact. His appearance was so unsettling that I never said
hello or bothered with a half-smile. I never wondered who he really was
beneath the off-putting exterior, why he was there, whether he had a
family, what his background was. I simply tried to steer clear.
It took me 20 years to realize that in writing him off as almost
subhuman, I'd fallen into the smug ignorance of most Americans. Sixty
percent of them, according to one comprehensive national survey, want
to distance themselves from people with schizophrenia. As a grad
student in the 1970s, I was, as they say, part of the problem.
Surgeon General's Report
I came to Washington in 1982 to become a health policy wonk and later
became an independent medical writer. The topic of mental health did
not reach my professional radar until 1998, when I was tapped to help
draft and edit the first-ever surgeon general's report on mental health.
The project began with a call from the project's senior scientific
editor, University of Maryland psychiatry professor Howard H. Goldman.
This report, he told me, was a watershed event. Never before had a
surgeon general focused on mental health and mental illness. The
current surgeon general, David Satcher, saw the document as an
opportunity to draw attention to illnesses that were as real and
disabling as heart disease and cancer but had rarely been treated as
such. Would I be interested?
I hedged, not eager to commit to a topic of marginal interest. Even
after I reluctantly agreed, I had no way of knowing how absorbing the
assignment would become.
I began by editing chapters from experts. One part, "Outcome of
Schizophrenia," explained that popular assumptions about schizophrenia
-- including that it follows an inevitable downhill course to total
dysfunction -- were based on a century-old description. Newer research
that systematically tracked patients over decades found that half to
two-thirds of people with schizophrenia improve or recover.
Schizophrenia was not a life sentence, especially with treatment,
rehabilitation and support from family and friends. In fact, the expert
wrote, "some people with schizophrenia can experience a remission of
their symptoms and return to a high level of functioning."
That was news to me.
To illustrate the point, the author cited the story of a certain John
Nash, the 1994 Nobel prize winner in economics. I re-read this
descriptor with astonishment, wondering briefly if this could possibly
be the same figure I recalled from graduate school days. I then pushed
the question from my mind. But a few weeks later, curious to know more,
I bought Sylvia Nasar's 1998 biography of the troubled genius. As I
leafed through the book, I came upon a picture of Nash from Princeton
-- which had been taken while I had been there in the 1970s. In black
and white, there was the indelible image: Nash wearing mismatched
plaids, that same hollow stare in his eyes.
His biography transported me back to the Ivy League campus -- and back
even further to the history of its illustrious math department. In 1950
Nash earned his doctorate there in a branch of mathematics known as
game theory, a system for assessing competing strategies and outcomes
in such areas as economics, political science and sociology. It was his
work in this field that, more than 40 years later and long after his
terrible battle with schizophrenia, would win him the Nobel prize.
In graduate school, I remembered, I had spent nights over wine and beer
with math students, watching them crack jokes and scrawl unfathomable
equations on napkins. I recalled their awkwardness, their crooked
glasses, greasy hair and body odor. Yet the biography made clear that
even within the quirky and cloistered world of the math department,
Nash was a loner. He was withdrawn and inaccessible even before the
onset of his mental illness.
But, as Nash's biography relates, it wasn't until after he left
Princeton for his first faculty post at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) that he began a precipitous mental slide. In 1959,
when he gave a lecture to the American Mathematical Society, Nash
rambled incoherently. To listeners, the lecture seemed to certify him,
in the most conspicuous way, as a madman.
Nash's wife made the painful decision to have him committed to McLean
Hospital outside Boston. Psychiatrists diagnosed paranoid
schizophrenia. So began a 30-year nightmare of delusions,
hallucinations and disorganized thoughts and speech -- the hallmarks of
one of the most feared mental disorders.
Many of the treatments he received have long since been discredited. In
1961 doctors at a Princeton-area hospital subjected him to six weeks of
insulin coma therapy -- daily injections that sent his blood sugar
plummeting and rendered him comatose, followed by forced feedings of
glucose to revive him. Recoiling at what he called being "tortured,"
Nash would drop even apparently effective medications upon discharge,
prompting a new cycle of troubles and treatments.
In 1960, convinced he was a political prisoner, Nash traveled to
Europe, determined to hand in his passport at a U.S. embassy. Initially
he was talked out of it; later he simply threw the document away.
I expected little more than a good read from Nash's biography; what I
got was a lesson about the shattering impact of schizophrenia. But I
didn't stop to think about my own behavior toward Nash until I got to
the account of the battle over his nomination for the Nobel prize.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel prizes after
secret negotiations by several committees. But what happened to Nash
was such an indictment of the participants that some later felt
compelled to reveal the story.
When Nash's candidacy was first considered in the late 1980s, the
selection committee immediately expressed concern about incurring
embarrassment if they awarded the prize to someone with schizophrenia,
even though Nash's work in game theory was finished in 1951, several
years before the onset of his illness.
The committee dispatched a scout to Princeton with one mission: to
determine whether the rumors that Nash was recovering were true. Nash
was eccentric, the member reported back, but no longer crazy. His
recovery had begun gradually in the 1980s -- no one knows precisely why
or how. But the key ingredients, in his biographer's view, were likely
the gentle support of his wife and the sheltered Princeton campus. One
day, the story goes, Nash suddenly turned to a professor to whom he'd
never spoken before and remarked that he'd seen the man's daughter
quoted in the newspaper.
The committee proceeded with Nash's application, but not without
resistance. One member claimed to be skeptical of the value of Nash's
work on game theory, despite the fact that it was already being applied
on an international scale in commerce and diplomacy. When the
nomination came before the full body for a vote, Nash was awarded the
Nobel prize in one of the closest votes in the Academy's history.
Debate was so bitter that it delayed the usually punctual news
conference to announce the winners.
After reading this, I realized that if members of the Academy -- so
educated, so worldly, so refined -- could so nearly let a personal
history of mental illness blind them to an individual's
accomplishments, then others could, too. Including me. Even if my
long-ago reaction to Nash was instinctive, unlike the committee's
prolonged consideration, it was no less disturbing, no less a violation
of a person's worth.
Shame of Mental Illness
Why had I thought only of avoiding Nash when I passed him years before?
Why had I reacted with revulsion, not empathy? Why had I not stood up
to those who ridiculed him, who dismissed him as a freak?
These thoughts became enmeshed in my writing of the 1999 surgeon
Stigma, I wrote, is "the most formidable obstacle to future progress in
the arena of mental illness and health. . . . It is manifested by bias,
distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger and/or avoidance.
"Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing or working with,
renting to, or employing people with mental disorders, especially
severe disorders such as schizophrenia. . . . It reduces patients'
access to resources and opportunities (e.g., housing, jobs) and leads
to low self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness. It deters the public
from seeking, and wanting to pay for, care. In its most overt and
egregious form, stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse.
More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes
with their full participation in society."
It's right there in print. Little did anyone know I was at that point
writing a kind of self-critical autobiography.
But still, no dogmatic report can translate realizations into personal
As passionate as I've become about the plight of mental illness, I'm no
Mother Teresa. I do not now run over and greet wild-eyed strangers I
see on the street; they still make make me uneasy. But now I am willing
to pay slightly higher taxes or insurance premiums if that's what's
needed to get them adequate psychiatric care -- far more humane and
effective these days than what Nash experienced. And I know now their
humanity is inextricably connected with mine.
As I was writing the section of the surgeon general's report dealing
with the consequences of stigma, I felt almost as though I were shaking
myself free of a lifelong hangover. Even if my insensitivity toward
Nash made no difference to him at the time, it had tacitly endorsed
others' disregard of him and condoned a kind of social injustice.
Gradually, my ignorance and apathy about mental illness evolved into
empathy. But that transformation did not occur solely by educating
myself. It took Nash's story to rouse me. It took recognizing that I
was part of the problem. I'm still working on it.
Freelance medical writer Miriam Davis is working
with co-author Howard H. Goldman on a book about the stigma of mental
© 2001 The Washington Post Company"
December 23, 2001 - News
of the Week
"A BEAUTIFUL MIND" OPENS DECEMBER 25
THE TITLE ALONE BESTOWS DIGNITY
This week is the opening of "A Beautiful Mind," a movie based on Sylvia
Nasar's 1998 biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a mathematical genius
with a formidable intellect and a little-understood illness diagnosed
The title alone -- "A Beautiful Mind" -- gives dignity to people
diagnosed with schizophenia. Without even seeing the film, people will
be exposed to new ways of thinking about a term that is routinely
misused by the general public.
For thirty years, Mr. Nash battled for control of his life with the
help of his wife, Alicia, who refused to give up. Then, as his illness
subsided in 1994, he was awarded a Nobel prize for his brilliant work
early in his career.
In Ms. Nasar's book, the Nash family portrait is unsparing, yet warm
and empathetic. On nearly every page, scholarly details emerge clearly:
for example, an explanation of the schizophrenia syndrome or a look at
arcane theorems and theories. The book offers fascinating glimpses of
the small world of mathematical giants and how they relate to each
other. It ends with a suspenseful tracing of the events that led to
Nash's Nobel prize.
So the big question is: Can the movie capture the essence of the book?
It's a tall order. But whatever the verdict, the movie has a wonderful
stereotype-shattering title, "A Beautiful Mind."
December 16, 2001 - News
of the Week
WEBSITES HELP STUDENTS RESEARCH
The National Stigma Clearinghouse often gets calls from college
students who are working on academic projects about prejudice and
mental illnesses. Their Internet searches are apt to turn up as many as
50,000 hit-or-miss entries, none meeting their needs.
For an overview of current anti-discrimination / anti-stigma
developments, we recommend a few key websites. These sites offer the
researcher many related links.
Otto Wahl's Home Page. In addition to Dr. Wahl's
informative website, he has written two excellent books that are
available in most libraries: Media Madness is packed with
information about media images of mental illnesses. Telling Is
Risky Business relates psychiatric survivors' reactions to
prejudice, how it affects their lives, and how they cope.
Surgeon General's Reports. Dr. David Satcher,
the U.S. Surgeon General, has issued important reports on mental
health: culture, race and ethnicity; suicide prevention; and a landmark
report on the nation's mental health with a section on the effects of
National Institute of Mental Health. This
encyclopedic website gives statistical information, descriptions of
mental illnesses, and much more.
CMHS Knowledge Exchange Network. This site is a
basic resource on psychiatric conditions. Its emphasis is on people,
National Stigma Clearinghouse. We post over 40
links to related websites. When possible, we answer questions about
specific information needed, preferably by E-mail (email@example.com).
NOTE: Was this information useful? Please let us
know what other sites you find useful. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 3, 2001 - News
of the Week
WILL "SEPTEMBER 11" CAUSE GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS?
The trauma of terrorism continues to distress victims. According to
reports, symptoms that resemble disabling mental illnesses have
occurred in a large number of people who normally do not seek mental
health help. In New York City alone, 1.5 million people are expected to
turn to counseling, requiring 14 million dollars in federal help.
It has been said that for pain to go away, it must be shared by others.
Since September 11, there has been a phenomenal outpouring of shared
support for those who were directly affected by the tragedy of that
terrible day. In addition to emotional and psychological support,
millions of dollars from private well-wishers await distribution to
An interesting question: Will compassion for trauma victims awaken a
new understanding of the nation's other mental health needs? Will the
shocked trauma victims make the connection between themselves and
people who struggle with similar symptoms without help of any kind?
Will a new awareness replace the prejudice and discrimination that has
slowed progress on mental health issues?
For example, will Congress pass the federal insurance parity bill to
end discrimination against employees who have mental illnesses? Here in
New York, will the insurance parity bill pass? Will grossly underpaid
community mental health workers get the wage parity they deserve? Will
the state's fiscal game of shifting mental health "savings" from
shutdown hospital beds to the state's general fund be halted? Will
people with mental illnesses discharged from jails and hospitals
receive follow-up community support, medical care, and decent housing?
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November 25, 2001 - News
of the Week
We flinch when journalists use psychiatric terms like "schizophrenic,"
"psychotic," or "psychopathic" to describe political problems . Such
terms are useless for clear writing, since the public's understanding
of them is foggy at best.
Anthony Lewis, in his New York Times column of November 24, described
the cruelty of Taliban rulers against Afghans as "so harsh that it has
to be called psychopathic." Unfortunately, the general public tends
to confuse "psychopathic" with "psychotic," which is a very different
condition. This damaging confusion (also seen in some dictionaries)
has concerned us for many years.
Years ago, we asked Dr. Otto Wahl to explain the difference between
"psychotic" and "psychopathic." Below is a shortened version of his
explanation. For Dr. Wahl's complete explanation, click http://mason.gmu.edu/~owahl/PSYVSPSY.HTM.
For Otto Wahl's Home Page, click http://mason.gmu.edu/~owahl/INDEX.HTM.
PSYCHOTIC vs. PSYCHOPATHIC:
GETTING THE TERMS STRAIGHT
Otto F. Wahl, Ph.D.
George Mason University
It is common to find people using the terms "psychotic" and
"psychopathic" almost interchangeably, with each frequently followed by
the word "killer." Such usage reflects misunderstanding of the meanings
of these terms and promotes what may be harmful misconceptions about
the relationship of mental illnesses to violence and criminality. What
follows is an attempt to clarify these labels.
PSYCHOTIC, as explained in the diagnostic
guidebook used by mental health professionals in this country (the
DSM-IV), is a rather loosely used term which refers not to a specific
mental illness but to a class of psychiatric disorders in which there
is "grossly impaired reality testing" (DSM-IV, p. 770). Individuals
experiencing a psychotic episode misidentify and misinterpret
situations and events in a major way such that their understanding of
external reality is greatly distorted. Hallucinations, delusions, and
disorganized thought and speech are manifestations of this kind of
impairment. Disorders typically considered "psychotic" include
schizophrenia, severe mood disorders such as mania and major
depression, and some organic brain disorders.
PSYCHOPATHIC is not the same as
"psychotic." "Psychopathic" is a descriptor taken from a no longer used
diagnostic label - psychopathy. One central feature of this disorder
(now called Antisocial Personality Disorder) is "a pervasive pattern of
disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in
childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood" (DSM-IV,
p. 645). Often this antisocial behavior includes unlawful behavior and
numerous arrests, but may also include things like repeated failure to
fulfill marital, parental, or work responsibilities, lying, and
substance abuse. Psychopathic individuals usually have adequate reality
testing and may even lack any other pathology beyond their antisocial
conduct. (It is noteworhy, in fact, that laws in many states explicitly
exclude this type of disorder from definitions of legal insanity.) They
are also said to be characterized by lack of remorse for their
November 11, 2001 - News
of the Week
MORE LINKS ADDED TO OUR LISTS
ADDITIONS to LINKS - Anti-Stigma Programs,
This is the site of the Institute for the Study of Human Resilience, a
new institute at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and
Rehabilitation Sciences. Courtenay Harding, Ph.D., Director, is best
known to the mental health community for her research on recovery from
schizophrenia, and as the chief investigator for the Vermont
Longitudinal Study, which analyzed outcome data that challenged
long-held beliefs about prognosis.
This new site, created by Patrick Bruckart of Glen Allen, Virginia,
uses a person-centered interfaith approach to help make congregations
of all faiths more welcoming to people with psychiatric disabilities.
ADDITIONS to LINKS - Education, Training, Rights
This is the site of Advocacy Unlimited, Inc., an education and advocacy
organization in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Advocacy Unlimited has
trained mental health advocates throughout Connecticut since 1994 and
contributes regularly to national forums on education and training.
This is the site of the Program in Consumer Studies and Training at the
Missouri Institute of Mental Health. Jean Campbell, Ph.D., Director,
first gained national recognition during the 1980's for her work on
This is the site of CONTAC, the Consumer Organization and Networking
Technical Assistance Center in Charleston, West Virginia. CONTAC serves
as a resource center for consumers/survivors/ex-patients and
consumer-run organization across the United States.
A NOTE TO OUR WEBSITE VISITORS: DO
YOU SEE WHAT WE SEE?
This website is now over two years old.
Were wondering what YOU see when you visit it.
Can you access the site easily?
Is the text easy or hard to read? (size, color, etc.)
Do the LINKS work?
ANY COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS, however brief, will
be appreciated. E-mail email@example.com
THANK YOU !
Back to top
November 4, 2001 - News
of the Week
OVERCOMING PSYCHIATRIC SLURS AND LABELS
Smart-alecks do it. The best and brightest among us do it. Lots of
people use psychiatric slurs to demean their enemies. Few labelers are
aware that the belittling effects of slurs spread to millions of people
with mental health needs.
New York City's Mayor Ed Koch often called his critics "crazies" and
At the U.S. Senate hearings prior to Clarence Thomas's appointment to
the Supreme Court, the senators suggested that Anita Hill was mentally
disturbed to discredit her testimony about Thomas.
A day after foreign terrorists murdered thousands of American
civilians, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to protect New York City's
Islamic population by calling the criminal attackers "sick" and
"insane," (TV news and New York Times, Sept. 13, 2001). Giuliani's
motives were admirable, but his words were misleading and stigmatizing.
Sometimes psychiatric slurs are tossed off lightly. A Bush
administration official, talking about a possible U. N. Security
Council condemnation of anthrax poisoning in the U. S. (New York Times,
Nov. 1, 2001), suggested that the source of the anthrax could be "a
bunch of right-wing nuts." Why did he not say "a bunch of domestic
terrorists" or "a bunch of American criminals" ?
Psychiatric slurs discredit opponents without naming any specific flaw.
It's a hit-and-run technique. Many people would say such slurs are a
relatively benign way to attack one's enemies.
But in fact, psychiatric slurs are potent weapons. Society has deemed
that a psychiatic label, even by itself and without cause of any kind,
devalues the person labeled.
In 1997, celebrity gossip columnist Liz Smith advised Martha Stewart
("the goddess of gracious living"), to sue for loss of earning ability
when the National Enquirer labeled Stewart "mentally ill" with a
borderline personality disorder. "That's a pretty damning statement,"
Smith wrote. (Newsday, Sept. 4, 1997).
A successful libel suit may be a happy solution but it's unavailable to
most of us. The realistic goal of mental health activists is to defeat
the labels' capacity to hurt. This involves enlightening the public,
not an easy task considering the lack of science-based evidence about
what works best.
Psychiatric survivors have found alternatives to the snail-like pace of
social change. They recognize that when they discover their strengths,
attributes, uniqueness, and worth -- however long that search may take
-- they defeat the bias unfairly attached to labels. When they take
part in programs that assist integration with their communities, and
expand their roles in policy-making, they forge constructive and
respected images of people with psychiatric disabilities.
Sylvia Caras, the founder of People Who (www.peoplewho.org), describes
people with mental illnesses or psychiatric vulnerabilities as "People
who experience mood swings, fear, voices, and visions." We don't know
of a clearer, more non-biased way to put it.
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October 28, 2001 - News
of the Week
REALITY IS REPLACING OLD MYTHS
The horrific destruction on September 11th has changed America's views
about our vulnerability, our separation from the world's festering
conflicts, and equally important, our notion that acts of mass
destruction are the work of "madmen" and "lunatics." The past
mislabeling of terrorists with psychiatric slurs has not only maligned
psychiatric survivors, but it may well have misled our nation's
We checked our archive of 1990's stigma reports to gauge the media's
past coverage of terrorism and mass murder for political aims. News
reports referred to Saddam Hussein, Iraqis, or Arabs in general as
"madmen," "crazy," or "demented." Time magazine ran a cover story
titled "When China Went Mad" and referred to China's Cultural
Revolution as a "decade of madness." The Oklahoma City bomber was
labeled "deranged" in a respected newspaper. The word "schizophrenia"
was misused numerous times by some of the nation's most exemplary press
to describe self-contradictory government policies (wrongly equating
schizophrenia with split personality).
By contrast, the media currently seem to be doing a better job of
presenting terrorism as a social phenomenon that is unrelated to people
with psychiatric disabilities. Most news reports draw a clear
distinction between organized fanatic hatred and mental llnesses.
A day after the September 11th disaster, the New York Times reported
that "suicide bombers do not qualify for any psychiatric diagnosis."
And the Sunday Times Magazine of October 28th drew the same conclusion
in its cover story, "What Makes A Suicide Bomber? His psyche is the
least of it." Television news and the major news magazines have
generally included views that concur with the Times. Another sign of
progress is the absence from most major media of the word "madman," a
popular label for violent fanatics in the 1990's.
One hopes that such clarifying messages will prove to be a valuable
source of public education.
WE WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS. If you have seen examples of terrorists
labeled with psychiatric slurs in media reports, please let us know. Be
sure to include the name of the source, the words used, and the date
they were seen or heard. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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PLEASE NOTE ! ! !
AN IMPORTANT (BELATED) STIGMA ALERT
"MENTAL PATIENT" HALLOWEEN COSTUME FUELS PREJUDICE
We have just learned from the Massachusetts Anti-Stigma Campaign in
Northampton (E-mail: email@example.com)
that an extremely offensive Halloween costume, consisting of a
straitjacket with a Hannibal Lechter mask, was sold in TARGET stores.
The distributor is DISGUISE, "The world's largest costume company."
(The information came from a NAMI Alert).
This atrocious costume must not be repeated next year. To bury it
forever, both the manufacturer and retailer need to hear from you NOW.
The costume is called "Mental Patient" and is subtitled "Member of the
Ward." It is described as a "canvas straitjacket, with straps, and a
vinyl Hannibal-type face mask."
Mr. Benoit Pousset, President
11906 Tech Center Court
Poway, CA 92064
Mr. Bob Ulrich, CEO
P. O. Box 1392
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55440
(It appears that TARGET has removed the costume from their website's
Halloween merchandise listings -- a hopeful sign that advocates
messages are being heard.)
The National Stigma Clearinghouse sent the following letter to Mr.
Pousset, president of DISGUISE.
We have just been informed that DISGUISE has
marketed a "mental patient" Halloween costume featuring a straitjacket.
As a symbol of violence and humiliation, this costume is deeply
offensive to the mental health community.
The U.S. Surgeon General has identified prejudice against people with
psychiatric disabilities as a threat to their well-being. Thus, to
plant prejudice in the minds of children is to inflict serious harm.
It may interest you to know that the New York City Human Rights
Commission censured an advertising agency for using a straitjacket
"humorously" to sell shirts. The Commission stated that "the
straitjacket is an extraordinarily strong symbol for mentally ill
persons" and that the ads "promoted bias and limited equal treatment
under the Human Rights Law."
It is regrettable that you did not foresee the costume's impact. It
might help to compare it to an "abused child" costume sporting bruises
and broken bones, or a "terminal cancer patient" featuring a wasted
body with tubes in every orifice.
We ask you to immediately remove any "straitjacket" items from your
inventory and your catalog. and that you withdraw straitjackets from
any future commercial plans. Please understand, we do not believe you
would intentionally cause harm.
Please let us hear from you. Jean Arnold, National Stigma Clearinghouse
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September 16, 2001 - News
of the Week
Click-on websites to help deal with grief, stress trauma, and anxiety:
To learn more about post traumatic stress disorder,
GRIEF, UNCERTAINTY, AND SELFLESSNESS UNITE THE NATION
Mayor Giuliani Personifies New York City's Strength
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has won our eternal respect with his calm and
steadfast handling of the horrific disaster at the World Trade Center.
We must painfully note, however, the mayor's jarring comment calling
the attackers "insane" and "sick" in a TV interview (also reported in
the New York Times). The gravity of this national crisis calls for
accurate information, not slurs that confuse.
During the coming weeks and months, terrorism and our relationship to
it will be thoroughly analyzed in the press. Below is an Op-Ed article
from the New York Times -- an early sample of many viewpoints to come.
Op-ED, New York Times, September 14
(copyright New York Times 2001)
STRUGGLING AGAINST FANATICISM
By AMOS OZ
RAD, Israel -- A tide of religious and nationalistic fanaticism is on
the rise throughout Islam, from the Philippines to Gaza and Libya and
Algeria, from Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq to Lebanon and Sudan. Here
in Israel we have been on the receiving end of this lethal fanatic
tide: almost every day we witness the link between hateful incitement
and mass murders, between religious sermons that celebrate jihad and
its fulfillment in suicide bombs against innocent civilians.
Being the victims of Arab and Muslim fundamentalism often blinds us so
that we tend to ignore the rise of chauvinistic and religious extremism
not only in the domain of Islam but also in various parts of the
Christian world and indeed among the Jewish people. If it turns out
that America's dreadful ordeal results from the fact that fanatic
mullahs and ayatollahs persistently portray the United States as "The
Great Satan" — then America, like Israel, "The Little Satan,"
must prepare itself for a long, hard struggle.
Perhaps it is only human that underneath the shock and the pain there
is a small voice in some of us here in Israel, which says "now at last
they will all understand what we are going through" or "now they will
all finally take our side."
But this small voice is extremely dangerous for us: it may easily
seduce us into forgetting that with or without Islamic fundamentalism,
with or without Arab terrorism, there is no justification whatsoever
for the lasting occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people by
Israel. We have no right to deny Palestinians their natural right to
self-determination. Two huge oceans could not shelter America from
terrorism; the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel has not
made Israel secure — on the contrary, it makes our self-defense
much harder and more complicated. The sooner this occupation ends, the
better it will be for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
It is all too easy and tempting now to fall into all
sorts of racist clichés about "Muslim mentality" or "Arab
character" and other such rubbish [emphasis added]. The horrendous
crime committed against New York and Washington is a sharp reminder
that this is not a war between religions, nor a struggle between
nations. This is, once more, the battle between fanatics for whom the
end — any end, be it religious, nationalistic or ideological
— sanctifies the means, and the rest of us who ascribe sanctity
to life itself.
Despite the abhorrent manifestation of joy in Gaza and Nablus while
people in New York were still burning alive, let no decent human being
forget that the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims are neither
accomplices to the crime nor rejoicing in it. Almost all of them are as
shocked and aggrieved as the rest of humankind. Perhaps they even have
some special reason for worrying, as ugly sounds of undiscriminating
anti-Islamic feelings can already be heard in some places. Such
feelings are inappropriate — and they play right into the eager
hands of the perpetrators of attacks against America.
Let us remember: neither the West nor Islam nor the Arabs is evil or
"The Great Satan." "The Great Satan" is personified in hatred and
fanaticism. These two ancient mental failings still plague us. Let us
be very careful not to be infected.
Amos Oz is the author of the forthcoming "The Same Sea."
Back to Top
September 9, 2001 - News
of the Week
FANNING FEAR IS EASY
"It is vastly easier to amplify fear than it is to assuage it." (From
an editorial, "The Statistical Shark," NYTimes, September 6, 2001)
The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) maintains that the public's fear of
people with mental illnesses stems from violence, mainly homicide. TAC
proposes to eliminate these "stigmatizing" acts with tougher
court-ordered-treatment laws. To get such laws passed, TAC focuses
attention on rare violent acts, not only at the time they occur but
with repeated reminders long afterward.
This fear strategy reinforces existing stereotypes. On prime time
television drama, for example, "mentally ill" characters are violent in
60 percent of their roles. Such distortion makes people with mental
illnesses seem the most dangerous of all demographic groups -- three to
four times more violent than other character groups on TV. (Numerous
studies show that significantly higher rates of violence are found in
abuse of alcohol and other substances, not mental illnesses.)
The TAC's tactics are questioned in September's Psychiatric Services
in an article analyzing mandated community treatment. The article, by
John Monahan, et. al., states that "Advocates of outpatient commitment
have explicitly 'sold' the approach largely by playing on public fears
of violence." The authors conclude that involuntary outpatient
commitment may be won at the cost of increasing prejudice, and with no
certainty of reducing community violence.
It is time for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the American
Psychiatric Association, and the National Mental Health Association to
publicly denounce the Treatment Advocacy Center's fear tactics.
For more information, scroll up to "Archives Re Involuntary Outpatient
Commitment" (just above).
NOTE: "The Statistical Shark" may be downloaded free until
Thursday, September 13. Click http://www.nytimes.com/
, then enter "The Statistical Shark" in Search box.
September 2, 2001 - News
of the Week
ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES COUNCIL OFFERS GUIDANCE
TO MEDIA PRODUCERS, DIRECTORS, AND WRITERS
The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., (http://www.eiconline.org/creative/spotlighton/)
has suggested ten ways to portray dramatic characters who have
psychiatric conditions as authentic and non-stereotypic individuals.
The Council's recommendations include showing people as complex
individuals, providing accurate information about the particular
condition being portrayed, avoiding connecting mental illnesses with
violence, giving empathetic portrayals of difficulties encountered, and
showing people with psychiatric disabilities as diverse, productive,
functioning members of society.
The U.S. Surgeon General set the stage for change in his groundbreaking
report on mental health in 1999. The report called the public's fearful
attitudes toward mental illnesses misplaced, and a barrier to treatment
SPOTLIGHT ON...Mental Illness is a "how and why"
guide to representing mental illnesses responsibly. Click http://www.eiconline.org/creative/spotlighton/mentill/depict1.html.
For a 2-page tipsheet that you can copy and circulate, e-mail your
request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to include a mailing address.
August 26, 2001 - News
of the Week
A FEAST OF INFORMATION ON THE INDIANA CONSORTIUM WEBSITE
A major commitment of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services
Research (ICMHSR) is to use research to foster public awareness and
improve public policy and decision-making on mental health issues.
Last September, the Indiana Corsortium made national news with their
publication of a unique study examining America's attitudes toward
mental health problems over the past 50 years. The report, Americans'
Views of Mental Health and Illness at Century's End; Continuity and
Change, is posted in PDF format on their website (http://www.indiana.edu/~icmhsr).
For a hard copy of the report, E-mail your request to email@example.com (Alejandra
Funding for the 3-year project came from the MacArthur Foundation; the
data is from a "Mental Health Module" attached to the 1996 national
survey conducted by the General Social Survey (GSS).
The ICMHSR website also lists and describes 56 articles of wide-ranging
interest to educators, students, advocates, researchers, mental health
professionals, and members of the general public. The article Abstracts
are posted online, with the full articles available by request (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The ICMHSR, led by Dr. Bernice A. Pescosolido, plans to continue its
research on the public's attitudes toward mental illnesses and mass
media's role in shaping the public's understanding of psychiatric
NOTE: The General Social Survey is a nationwide survey of opinion,
attitudes and behaviors of the American Population. The GSS has existed
since 1972, primarily under the sponsorship of the National Science
Foundation. Since 1977, the GSS has included "Topical Modules" on race,
religion, the military, and abortion, in addition to a set of core
August 19, 2001 - News
of the Week
THE DISCRIMINATION TIMES: A REMARKABLE AND
For a free copy, E-mail email@example.com.
(Please be sure to include a mailing address.)
In August 2000, the New Zealand Mental Health Commission issued the
results of a three-year study of the role the media play in mental
But instead of issuing a typical report, the Commission put their
findings into an ingenious and compelling "newspaper tabloid," calling
it THE DISCRIMINATION TIMES. The 24-page tabloid is intended
for use solely as a training and education resource for people who work
in the media and/or mental health sector.
Page 1 of THE DISCRIMINATION TIMES carries a warning: "This
document contains material which could be detrimental to your mental
health. There are examples of newspaper clippings which badly represent
people with mental health problems, and which could result in people
feeling isolated and silenced."
The Mental Health Commission was set up in 1996 to implement a National
Mental Health Strategy. The overall plan is based on a "Map of the
Journeys to equality, respect, and rights of people who experience
mental illness." The media report is the work of the Commission's
Anti-Discrimination Action Plan Team, and is part of the Commission's
overarching strategy. New Zealand's experience with media
misinformation will seem very familiar to activists in the U.S.
At our request, the Commission generously sent us some copies of THE
DISCRIMINATION TIMES. For a copy, while they last, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to
include a mailing address.
Back to top
August 12, 2001 - News
of the Week
"POSITIVE VISIBILITY" GETS A TRIPLE BOOST
from Bill Lichtenstein, Ira Minot, and David Gonzalez. This
item has been moved to Positive Visibility Postings. Please click
August 5, 2001 - News
of the Week
A BIASED "48 HOURS" PROGRAM IS RE-RUN
On Thursday, August 2, CBS News chose to re-broadcast a biased report
about schizophrenia and manic-depression, even though CBS was fully
aware of the program's flaws. (The hour-long program, "Breaking Point,"
on 48 HOURS, first aired on April 12, 2000.)
How many times will this inflammatory "infomercial" for court-ordered
treatment be re-broadcast? How often will the public hear the
frightening "statistic" that psychotic assailants with "untreated
manic-depression or schizophrenia" kill people at the rate of 1,000 per
year, or 20 per week (a bogus, unsubstantiated number) ?
Last year, researchers at RAND, in the most complete review of
literature ever conducted on forced-treatment, concluded that
court-ordered treatment by itself has no independent effect on
outcomes. The RAND report concludes: "The lack of empirical evidence
about the comparative effectiveness of involuntary versus voluntary
treatment is troubling -- decisions may be influenced more by
advocacy than by fact (emphasis added)."
Clearly "Breaking Point" is advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy
Center's point of view. The program also uses the fear tactics
that TAC favors to promote its case. In its first three minutes there
are 14 references to violence. The program opens with a promise of a
"showdown." Clanging doors, endless hallways, shattering glass,
gratuitous violent headlines, and repeated use of the phrase, "Time
Bomb," build dramatic suspense from beginning to end. Ostensibly a
human interest story, "Breaking Point" raises the public's fears about
mental illnesses and lmplies that forced-treatment is necessary for
Only one side of an extremely controversial issue was presented. How
can this be called journalism?
Contact information for 48 HOURS is as follows: E-mail email@example.com. Telephone
212-975-4848. Mailing address is 48 HOURS, 524 West 57th Street, New
York, NY 10019. You may also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
29, 2001 - News of the Week
WILL THE DAMAGE BE DOUBLED?
"Breaking Point," an hour-long program on CBS News's 48 HOURS,
aired on April 12, 2000 and is now under consideration for
re-broadcast. (Note: The damaged was doubled; the program was
In its first three minutes, "Breaking Point" crammed 14 references to
killing and violence. Its opening comments promised a "dramatic
showdown." After an hour-long buildup to impending violence by a human
"time bomb," a seemingly composed young man opened his apartment door
to a squad of armed police and was calmly led away.
Prime time opportunities to inform the public about mental illnesses
are rare. "Breaking Point" missed an opportunity to look at innovative
ways to deal with and head off psychiatric crises (except for some
brief but excellent footage on police training.)
The program purported to be an examination of the wrenching decisions
that anguished families must make when a psychotic episode affects an
individual's ability to function. But the segment was clearly designed
to showcase the views and "statistics" of the Treatment Advocacy
Center. The National Empowerment Center got a mere 25 seconds of
airtime to present alternate views.
Unfortunately, we have learned that "Breaking Point" is being
considered for re-broadcast. The National Stigma Clearinghouse has
written to Dan Rather asking for his help to keep the program from
Below are excerpts from our letter to Dan Rather:
It is troubling to learn that "Breaking
Point," a 48 HOURS program that aired on April 12, 2000, is under
consideration for re-broadcast. The purpose of this letter is to urge
that "Breaking Point" is not aired again.
Our letter also objected to the program's dramatic buildup to a violent
ending. The feared violence (thankfully) did not happen.
The subtext of the program is biased in favor of views promoted by the
Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) located in Arlington, Virginia. These
views lead to expanding court-ordered treatment of people with
In the first objective review (copyright 2000) of all Involuntary
Outpatient Commitment studies done in the past, RAND researchers
concluded that there is no evidence that court-ordered treatment is
necesary to achieve compliance and good outcomes.
"Breaking Point's" inflammatory language is also troubling. Numerous
times, the words TIME BOMB dominated the screen or were spoken. The
program's introduction warned viewers that innocent people minding
their own business are "suddenly attacked" by psychotic assailants,
leading to 1,000 homicides a year (that would be 20 a week), which is a
bogus number created by TAC.
Another unsubstantiated TAC statistic claims that 25 studies link
untreated mental illnesses with violence. This statement is refuted on
TAC's own website, where a list of studies shows that only 8 of them
(half are 10-15 years old) mention a lack of treatment.
Along with the letter, we sent the following enclosures:
Article: "Mindless and Deadly: Media Hype on Mental Illness and
A page from RAND's Research Brief (with contact information for the
Article: "Psychiatrists Divided Over Usefulness of Outpatient
Chart: Dangerous Characters on Prime Time Television
July 22, 2001 - News
of the Week
BRITISH PSYCHIATRISTS SAY PSYCHIATRIC AGENDA IS SET BY PHARMACEUTICAL
A group of British psychiatrists (the Critical Psychiatry Network)
recently lodged a formal protest against a drug company's sponsorship
of the Royal College of Psychistrists' annual meeting in London.
According to a report in The Guardian (7/9/01 UK), the psychiatrists
claim that the drug industry's marketing and money distort the mental
health agenda to the point where pills are seen as the answer to all
ills. In their letter of protest to the president of the Royal College
of Psychiatrists, members of the Critical Psychiatry Network charged
that "Psychiatry is a major growth area for the pharmaceutical
industry. By influencing the way in which psychiatrists frame mental
health problems, the industry has developed new (and lucrative) markets
for its products."
RELIANCE ON MEDICATION ALONE IGNORES SOCIAL FACTORS
Below are thoughtful comments by Marc Ross Miller, an advocate at the
Long Island Center for Independent Living (e-mail address: email@example.com)
"A THOUGHT ON WOMEN, DEPRESSION, AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE"
"Whether the proposed psychiatric cure for emotional problems has been
talk, as in the past, or medication, as it now generally is, the
solutions have neglected the larger structural bases for
emotional distress. For example, if, as studies routinely show, women
suffer from depression twice as often as men, it strains credibility to
believe that such a finding can be accounted for by biological
"To me, there is an obvious validity to the assumption that something
about the patterned social situations of women account for the
statistical gender difference in most, if not all, studies. If this is
so, a medical treatment focused exclusively on changing patients
(either changing the person's self through talk or their biochemistry
with pills) leaves wholly unattended the structural sources of human
"As such, most psychiatric treatment is inherently conservative by
implicitly supporting the systemic status quo. Medicine nearly always
interprets 'illness' as a reflection of the individual physical
pathology and rarely as a normal response to pathological social
structures. Following this line of thinking, I find the current
medical rhetoric that hypes medication as the 'cure' for depression to
be both scientifically arrogant and politically retrograde."
Marc Ross Miller, Resource Specialist/Advocate, Long Island Center for
For more information about sociological approaches to the phenomena of
depression, Marc Miller suggests "Speaking of Sadness," a book by David
A. Karp, Oxford University Press.
Back to top
July 15, 2001 - News
of the Week
A NEW BOOK: "DON'T CALL ME NUTS!"
"DON'T CALL ME NUTS! Coping With the Stigma of Mental Illness" is a
unique new book co-authored by two respected mental health experts,
Robert K. Lundin, an activist and editor, and Patrick Corrigan, a
leading researcher on psychiatric rehabilitation. (The foreword is by
Frederick J. Frese, III.)
While the title may raise some eyebrows among advocates, it is likely
to attract the attention of bookstore browsers who might otherwise pass
the book by. (Discussions on the choice of title must have been
"DON'T CALL ME NUTS!" combines personal experience, social theory,
advice about empowerment and disclosure, legal and political remedies
for stigma and discrimination, and ways to change public attitudes. It
is part handbook, part textbook, part catalyst for action.
Clearly the book will be useful to mental health activists. By
appealing to a broader audience, it is also likely to promote community
"DON'T CALL ME NUTS!" by Patrick Corrigan and Robert Lundin (2001),
Recovery Press, The University of Chicago, Center for Psychiatric
Rehabilitation, 7230 Arbor Drive, Tinley Park, IL 60477. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
July 8, 2001 - News
of the Week
"NEWS FOR A CHANGE : AN ADVOCATE'S GUIDE TO WORKING WITH THE MEDIA"
"NEWS for a CHANGE" is a nuts-and-bolts handbook for health activists,
chockfull of expert advice on media strategy. The book provides
advocates with checklists, sample letters, step-by-step guides, and
concrete examples drawn from the successes of real-life media
campaigns. Chapters include: Developing Strategy, Getting to Know the
Media, Thinking Like a Journalist, Creating News, and Evaluating Your
Lawrence Wallack, the principal author of "NEWS for a CHANGE," was the
founding director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group, an organization
conducting research and training on the use of media to promote healthy
Social theory on public policy change is an integral part of each
chapter, reflecting years of research and testing by the book's
authors: Lawrence Wallack, Katie Woodruff, Lori Dorfman, and Iris Diaz.
NEWS for a CHANGE: An Advocate's Guide to Working With the Media,
(1999) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA. Available in paperback and
Back to Top
July 1, 2001 - News
of the Week
"60 MINUTES II" REPORTS NEED FOR SPECIAL POLICE TRAINING
Report Is Marred by Misinformation and a Tendency to Sensationalize
To contact 60 MINUTES II, E-mail 60II@cbsnews.com
A year ago, a biased and inaccurate report on 60 MINUTES about
Involuntary Outpatient Commitment incensed mental health advocates.
Last week, the still angry advocates skeptically awaited a 60
MINUTES II segment, "Call For Help," about how police handle 911
calls involving "emotionally disturbed persons" (or EDP, a law
enforcement term). The program aired on CBS-TV on Tuesday, June 26.
"Call For Help" began with host Dan Rather seated in front of a murky
"slasher" graphic. Rather's script was designed to shock: "Every
day, across the country, many police face a crisis that all too often
ends in tragedy. It's called EDP, emotionally disturbed persons. These
calls are surprisingly common. One in ten calls to 911 is an EDP. But
what is also surprisingly common is their outcome. Either the death of
the EDP who needs help or the police officer who is trying to help.
Sometimes both are killed. When police misunderstanding meets mental
illness, both sides are in danger."
Rather's statement was a glaring distortion of fact. It implied that
most calls to 911 involving an emotionally disturbed person are
life-threatening. Worse, it stated that it is "surprisingly common" for
police officers to be killed during these encounters. WRONG! (*See below.) Such misleading
information defames people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses. The
program also used video clips of gratuitous violence throughout the
segment, presumably to keep the focus on danger.
But compared to last year's biased segment on 60 MINUTES, "Call
For Help" was a model of balance and sensitivity. Despite its
misleading opening and its gratuitous violence, "Call For Help" made a
strong case for progressive new police practices. The segment
repeatedly stressed that police officers are trained to behave in ways
that are the exact opposite of how they should act with
emotionally disturbed people. The importance of police re-training was
underscored by passionate law enforcement spokesmen, a social worker,
and a visit to a model program in Memphis, Tennessee. (Nothing was said
about reducing the need for 911 calls with more high-quality mental
Otto Wahl, an educator/author/advocate (http://mason.gmu.edu/~owahl/INDEX.HTM),
criticized the program's tendency to sensationalize, but praised its
recognition that "these are more than just patients but also people who
have skills, loved ones, aspirations" and he applauded the emphasis on
achieving "outcomes where nobody gets hurt." Overall, Dr. Wahl felt the
segment was more positive than negative.
Survivor/activists deplored the program for its sensationalism, its
lack of commentary by mental health consumers/survivors, and its
fixation on negative stories of people diagnosed with mental illnesses.
David Gonzalez (www.seecinemania.com)
said the program was an example of "media creating the news" and blamed
the media's over-emphasis on violence for contributing to "vigilante
justice" that ends in needless tragedy. Marc Ross Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
said: "Not once did we hear a person labeled with a mental illness
speak. This reduces people to objects." Miller asserts that treating
people as non-humans can result in pity and fear, and slows their
acceptance as multidimensional human beings. Harold Maio (email@example.com) wrote to
CBS proposing "an idea for a story: 60 MINUTES seeing us as
The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, an authoritative document issued
annually, shows that police fatalities by "deranged persons" is
extremely low. In both 1998 and 1999**, the number was 0 (zero). Over
the past ten years, the total number is 9 (out of a total of 658
officers killed in the line of duty during that period.) Statistics on
the number of emotionally disturbed persons killed by police are
So how on earth can 60 MINUTES II say that deaths are
"surprisingly common" in EDP 911 calls?
**Most recent available figure
To contact 60 MINUTES II, E-mail 60II@cbsnews.com
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