NEWS ARCHIVE 2002


Prepared by:
National Stigma Clearinghouse

Please scroll down for earliest entries

June 30, 2002 - News of the Week


PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION: THE HIDDEN BARRIERS

On June 22 the disabilities community lost Justin Dart, one of its most fervent and revered advocates. Dart's extraordinary legacy is explained in a collection of tributes linked below in "Related Reading."

Recently, Justin Dart gave activist David Oaks a powerfully simple formula for what people need to do to win freedom: "Get off our asses and organize!"

But while advocates grow stronger every day, prejudice and discrimination can undermine their hard work. It's not at all unusual for damaging stereotypes to lurk in benign places. In Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters," Allen's character heaps praise on a wannabe playwright for creating a dramatic climax where "a schizophrenic" jumps out from behind the bushes and murders her husband. This brief but potent scene is preserved forever in classic movie literature -- one gratuitous slur in an endless list.

Language sleuth Harold Maio points out that in K-PAX, a high-profile movie now available on video, a "friendly, crazy guy" (a critic's description) was arrested and locked up in a mental institution. Neither movie critics nor advocates seem to have questioned, or even noticed, this flagrantly illegal act.

Harold Maio writes: "In the opening scene, Kevin Spacey [Prot] seems to 'arrive' from nowhere as a purse snatching has just taken place. A police officer asks him where he is from and when he replies, 'From another planet', she refers to him as an 'EDP' and handcuffs him. The officer has broken the law, for Spacey's character shows no signs of being a danger to himself or anyone else. I doubt that the public noticed, and probably few if any police officers noted that the officer has commited a crime."

Maio continues: "So usual is it for this crime to occur that people take no note of it, even in a major film. At the moment of his arrest, Spacey's character ceases to have human rights, ceases to be human. His statement that he is from another planet is affirmed: He is not human in the eyes of the police officer, the psychiatrist, the workers, and the public who viewed the film. It is 'safe' to disregard his rights, as it was once safe to disregard other peoples' rights, for in the eyes of the writers and producers he represents a non-person."

In our society, the "presumed dangerous" stereotype is taught in childhood. Just one example: In Disney's book for "Beauty and the Beast," Gaston tells Belle, "Your father is crazy. Crazy folk should be put away...." (In the original folk tale, there was no "crazy father" character.)

In the face of self-perpetuating prejudice, only a united cross-disability community can achieve Justin Dart's call for "No forced treatment!"

RELATED READING
Tributes to Justin Dart (assembled by NYAPRS)


June 23, 2002 - News of the Week


"THE INFINITE MIND" ON NPR PROBES MEDIA'S ROLE IN SHAPING ATTITUDES

"The Infinite Mind," an hourlong weekly radio show on NPR, takes a hard look at the media's influence on public attitudes toward mental illnesses.

Listen to the program: http://www.lcmedia.com/mind223.htm.
For tapes and general information: http://www.lcmedia.com
For NPR broadcast information: http://www.lcmedia.com/stations.htm

This first in-depth broadcast to explore the media's depictions of mental illnesses features interviews with researchers, newspaper journalists, and members of the entertainment industry.

The program's guests include researchers Dr. Bernice Pescosolido and Dr. Otto Wahl, advocate David Gonzalez, journalists Liz Spikol and Don Sapatkin, and television producer Dr. Neal Baer. The program ends with a wry editorial comment by John Hockenberry.

"The Infinite Mind, " hosted by Dr. Fred Goodwin, is an award-winning program produced by Lichtenstein Creative Media in association with WNYC-New York. The progam "Mental Illness and the Media" was produced by Emily Fisher and June Peoples, and executive produced by Bill Lichtenstein.

RELATED READING


Websites:
Entertainment Industries Council: http://www.eiconline.org/creative/spotlighton/mentill
David Gonzalez,"The Stigma of CineMania": http://www.seecinemania.com
Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research:
http://www.indiana.edu/~icmhsr
Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)
http://www.mentalhealth.org/stigma/
National Stigma Clearinghouse: http://community.webtv.net/stigmanet
Otto Wahl's Home Page: http://mason.gmu.edu/~owahl/INDEX.HTM

Books:
Otto F. Wahl, Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness
Otto F. Wahl, Telling Is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma


June 16, 2002 - News of the Week


LANGUAGE MATTERS: The Word "Stigma"

Harold A. Maio, an advocate in Fort Myers, Florida, contends that language holds the clues and the keys to discrimination. We agree.

A recurring theme in Harold Maio's writings is his rejection of the word "stigma." We reprint below a recent e-mail to the Knowledge Exchange Network and interested others that eloquently explains the word's inappropriateness.

By coincidence, this week on the Internet I came across "STIGMA: The Dark Shadow of Oppression," the lead article in a 20-page issue of NETWORK (Spring 2000) published by the Canadian Mental Health Association. In this case, the word signals a call to action against public attitudes that fuel discrimination.

The word "stigma" appears to mean different things to different people. As used in NETWORK, stigma denotes society's misperceptions of mental illnesses. As perceived by Harold Maio, the word itself bestows a damaging image of differentness.

Granted, people who have not lived with a psychiatric diagnosis may understandably miss the nuances of words and phrases that set off alarms for survivors.

Still, our cautious view is that the general public understands the word stigma to mean prejudice. Both stigma (as defined in current dictionaries) and prejudice are based on preconceived judgments or opinions. Opinions change (though not easily) in the face of convincing contradictory facts; this potential for change explains why most stereotyped groups put a heavy emphasis on anti-defamation work.

"Because stigma is socially defined, there is considerable variation across cultures and across time about what marks [and labels] are stigmatizing." This observation in The Social Psychology of Stigma edited by Todd F. Heatherton et. al. leads us to expect that beliefs and attitudes toward people with psychiatric disabilities can and will adjust to present-day reality.

Harold Maio is applying his language sensitivity to help the mental health community and the general public recognize the flaws in what society takes for granted. When society discriminates against people on the basis of a label, diagnosis, or appearance, the clearest words to use are "bias" or "prejudice."

But again, what about the words "stigma" and "stigmatize"? Do they cause unintended harm? Or is stigma a socially-inflicted phenomenon that exists, and is wrong, whatever it is called?

E-mail message from HAROLD L. MAIO

From: AdvocateHmaio@aol.com
Subject: "stigma"
Date: June 6, 2002

In Baltimore a woman sits under a large banner proclaiming the existence of discrimination and "stigma". Her deep brown skin contrasts strongly with the colorful African garb she has chosen to proudly display her heritage. She sees no contradiction in applying the word "stigma" to another group, though she would protest loudly if anyone dared suggest it applied to her.

But, of course, it does, for people of African descent also belong to the group she is assigning "stigma" through her presence. As do women.

She is not offended by her act, though I , as a person at whom her flowing banner is directed, do. There is nothing about me physically, or even superfically, that suggests I carry a "stigma", and still she assigns me one. I wear no "yellow star" emblazoned on my coat, no tattoo  on my wrist; my skin color matches that of the majority of this culture, so not even that sets me apart; no one has branded me, there is no scar on my person to blare at  people that I am "different", yet she calmly sits there, in her bright bold color, instructing the world that I am.

It is her job. The culture in which she works, lives, has instructed her that I, not she,  am "different,  as it once instructed me that she was different, that she carried a "stigma", a "stigma" from which she could not escape.
And, now, having escaped that falsehood, she sits under the banner, as others sat under banners before her, proclaiming to the world that yet another group in this culture is "different", carries a "stigma".

She is, of course, wrong, but she does not know it. She is, of course wrong, but she remains unaware. She is of course wrong, but she has been taught, and as she is taught, so she acts; as I was taught so did I act.

And we were both wrong.

Harold A. Maio

RELATED READING


ON THE WEB
Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research - http://www.stigmaresearch.org
Network: Canadian Mental Health Association (pdf version) - http://www.ontario.cmha.ca/admin_ver2/maps/spring_2000.pdf
"Real Shame," an essay by Sylvia Caras http://www.peoplewho.org/readingroom/caras.stigma.htm
The Stigma of CineMania, website of David Gonzalez - http://www.seecinemania.com/

BOOK
The Social Psychology of Stigma, edited by Todd F. Heatherton et. al., 2000, The Guilford Press

WHAT'S YOUR VIEW? We would like to know.
AdvocateHMaio@aol.com
stigmanet@webtv.net


June 9, 2002 - News of the Week


INVOLUNTARY OUTPATIENT COMMITMENT DISCUSSED ON NPR RADIO

YOU CAN HEAR THE PROGRAM
(Click here)

A thoughtful discussion of involuntary outpatient commitment took place on National Public Radio's weekday talk/call-in show, "Public Interest," on Thursday, June 6. The hour-long show is available in the NPR archive -- go to http://www.wamu.org/ram/2002/p2020606.ram

Kojo Nnamdi, host of the program, deserves praise for bringing together the opposite sides of the mental health community's most divisive issue, court-ordered medication. His guests were Michael Allen, senior staff attorney for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Bill Compton, director of Project Return: The Next Step; and Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC).

Mr. Nnamdi's even-handed questioning gave the advocates a congenial forum to air sharply opposing views about the effectiveness, ethics, and legal aspects of coerced medication and treatment of people with psychiatric disabilities living in the community.

In a pleasant surprise, Mary Zdanowicz largely avoided TAC's usual over-emphasis on violence. Her strongest argument for court-ordered medication was patients' lack of insight about their disability. She stated that half of patients with symptoms of psychosis who are untreated do not know they need help.

Bill Compton argued against forcing medication by pointing out the complexity of finding the right medication and dosage and the need for a therapeutic alliance between doctor and patient. Compton made an informed choice to control his symptoms with medication and he argued that few people, if offered high quality programs that recognize their individual needs, would reject such help.

Michael Allen called an entitlement to high quality mental health services the nation's most pressing priority for ending the current crisis in care. Allen named several studies including a comprehensive survey of studies by RAND that cast doubt on the efficacy of forced treatment.

The coercion controversy has sapped resources and energy from the huge but underpowered mental health community. Could the cordial discussion on NPR signal a turning point in this debilitating no-win struggle?

To thank Kojo Nnamdi for this thought-provoking discussion, E-mail pi@wamu.org

RELATED READING

  • Book: Coercion and Aggressive Community Treatment: A New Frontier in Mental Health Law, Edited by Deborah L. Dennis and John Monahan

  • Websites:
    Bazelon IOC Page - http://www.bazelon.org/iocpage.html
    Bazelon Model Law - http://www.bazelon.org/newvisionofpublichealth.html
    MacArthur Research Network - http://www.macarthur.virginia.edu/
    MacArthur Research Network - http://www.macfound.org/research/hcd/hcd_8.htm
    MadNation - http://www.madnation.cc/issues/force/
    RAND Research Brief - http://www.rand.org/publications/RB/RB4537/
    Treatment Advocacy Center - http://www.psychlaws.org/


  • May 12, 2002 - News of the Week


    SALLY SATEL: WRONG FOR POLICYMAKER JOB

    ACT NOW TO HEAD OFF SATEL APPOINTMENT (See Below)

    David Oaks of MindFreedom in Eugene, Oregon has alerted advocates that Dr. Sally L. Satel is being considered for a position on the advisory board of the federal Center for Mental Health Services. It is a grim thought, considering Satel's reputation for extremism (described in a New York Times profile a year ago, "A Critic Takes On Psychiatric Dogma, Loudly," March 6, 2001).

    But it is Satel's misrepresentation of people with psychiatric disabilities that is most objectionable. Oaks found twenty-five errors and distortions relating to psychiatric consumers/survivors in Satel's recent book, PC, M.D..
    (Click here) Satel's prejudice fills a chapter, "Inmates Take Over the Asylum," that may be intentionally deceptive, careless, or just indifferent to the facts.

    Satel came into our view in May, 1997, on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had at last issued guidelines suggesting the kind of job accomodations that would apply to people with psychiatric disabilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act (enacted 1990). Satel suggested that the guidelines would allow psychiatric ex-patients to ruin the workplace. In her view they were likely to be manipulative, hide behind their disabilities, and behave badly (New York Times, May 10, 1997, "When Work Is The Cure").

    A year later, Satel joined D. J. Jaffe of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) to write "Violent Fantasies," an article for an issue of National Review (July 1998) called "PsychoBabble: How America Indulges the Mentally Ill, Coddles Wife Beaters - and Persecutes Normal Parents." The Satel/Jaffe article accused the MacArthur Research Network on Mental Health and the Law of faulty research on violence. What the MacArthur researchers had reported (angering TAC) was that people with serious mental illnesses are not more violent than their neighbors unless they have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. Satel/Jaffe had to reject any finding of non-violence that could weaken their promotion of mental illnesses as a public safety threat requiring forced treatment.

    On December 15, 1999, Satel wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times, "Mentally Ill Or Just Sad?" predicting that the newly-released Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health would fuel a burst of indiscriminate and misplaced new spending that would siphon funds away from those who need it most. Although this concern has validity, Satel described coercive treatment for these "most needy" people. She blamed their poor condition on resistance to receiving help, not an absence of high quality programs.

    Most troubling of all, Satel has shown no awareness of the important role ex-patients play in developing mental-health-system reform.

    We have faxed the following request to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson:

    We urge you not to appoint psychiatrist Sally L. Satel MD to the National Advisory Council for the Center For Mental Health Services (CMHS), or to any other responsible position in mental health policy-making.

    Her coercive concepts of treatment have been discredited by numerous critics.

    Her articles and statements are shockingly inflammatory toward people with first-hand experience of mental illnesses and the failed mental health system. These are people with valuable insights about system reform whose contributions to system design are necessary for success.

    Pease don't turn back the clock.


    Jean Arnold, National Stigma Clearinghouse


    Contact Information:
    Secretary Tommy G. Thompson
    U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
    200 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC 20201
    Tel: (tollfree) 1-877-696-6775
    Tel: 202-619-0257
    Fax: 202-690-7203
    E-mail: HHS.Mail@hhs.gov
    RELATED READING

  • Sally Satel - http://www.sallysatelmd.com/html/introduction.htm

  • Mind Freedom - http://www.mindfreedom.org/mindfreedom/satel_e.shtml

  • MacArthur Research Network - http://www.mac
    found.org/research/hcd/hcd_8.htm

  • MacArthur Violence Study - http://www.macarthur.virginia.edu/violence.html

  • MadNation Issues - http://www.madnation.cc/issues/force/


  • May 5, 2002 - News of the Week


    1) THE MADNATION WEBSITE IS BACK ! Click http://www.madnation.cc/building.htm


    2) A NEW YORK TIMES YEAR-LONG INVESTIGATION FINDS HORROR IN ADULT HOMES: BUT WILL OFFICIALS ACT?

    Clifford J. Levy's four articles ("For Mentally Ill, Death and Misery," front page, April 28-30) paint a nightmarish tableau of human pain and suffering and the execrable living conditions that exacerbate the psychic travails that afflict the mentally ill.

    The question that lingers is: How much worse will it get for the mentally ill of New York, and of this nation? Every city and small town can offer its own story of how psychiatrically impaired people are dumped into the collective waste bin of our indifference.

    Those who suffer the anguish of schizophrenia and other serious psychological debilities can be found in our jails, in our homeless shelters and ever more abundantly on our streets. Nowhere in sight is systemic, properly financed help. Are the good people of New York and everywhere in the United States ready at last to change things?
     

    JOE MARTIN
    Seattle, April 28, 2002
    Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company


    3) PBS ONLINE FORUM. To see Questions and Answers, Click http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/sfeature/sf_forum.html)

    Of special interest is Robert Whitaker's reply (below) to a question about stereotypes from Sylvia Caras (http://www.peoplewho.org) in Santa Cruz, California.

    The stereotyping of people with schizophrenia runs deep in our society, and that stereotyping has far-reaching consequences. Here are three things that I believe would help fight this problem.

    a) Expand the public dialogue so that it includes the voice of "consumers."

    Stereotypes tend to flourish when people in the stereotyped group are not heard. And that is one of the problems we have today. Public discussion of schizophrenia (in the media, etc.) is driven largely by three groups: psychiatrists and other scientists involved in psychiatric research, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antipsychotic drugs. What is missing from this dialogue is the voice of "consumers," particularly those who may not share the views of the three groups mentioned above. Consumer groups can be found at both a local and national level. For instance, in the Boston area, there is a group that works on state issues called M-Power. In nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts, several people who have recovered from schizophrenia run the National Empowerment Center. Many of these local groups, in turn, belong to a national organization called Support Coalition International. The leaders of these groups are very articulate and thoughtful, but, unfortunately, their perspectives are rarely heard. Indeed, it is revealing that this voice -- of consumer-run groups -- is missing from this online panel.

    b) Rethink the "broken brain" message.
    The public message that we hear today about mentally illness, one that is supposed to take away the stigma, is that the mentally ill suffer from "broken brains." The message seems to be, "It's not their fault." Personally, I think that is actually a deeply stigmatizing message. It is also one that, from a scientific standpoint, doesn't accurately reflect the natural spectrum of outcomes in people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

    The "broken-brain" metaphor implies that people so diagnosed are "different." In the public's mind, it draws a line separating the "normal" from the "abnormal." If we want to destigmatize mental illness, I think we need a message that emphasizes, so to speak, our "alikeness." In the 19th century, for instance, Quakers emphasized that the severely mentally ill were "brethren," a concept that is wonderfully inclusive. That's what I think we need today, a public message that says, yes, people diagnosed with schizophrenia may grapple with their minds, and yes, there may be biological reasons for why they do so, but that doesn't mean they should be seen as having "broken" brains. That is a term that puts a "defective" stamp on people so diagnosed.
    From a scientific standpoint, the "broken brain" metaphor also doesn't reflect the diversity of recovery patterns you see in people with schizophrenia who aren't routinely medicated. In the 1970s, for instance, there were three studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health that involved treating newly diagnosed patients without neuroleptics. In each one, more than 50% of the patients recovered and didn't relapse in a follow-up period that ranged from one to three years. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, found a similar pattern of recovery in poor countries, like India, Colombia and Nigeria, where only 16% of patients in the study were routinely kept on antipsychotic medications. Two years after diagnosis, 40% of the patients in the poor countries had recovered and were "unimpaired." In other words, they suffered a schizophrenic break and then got better. They didn't become chronically ill and they didn't need constant medication. That is not an outcome consistent with the notion that all people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia have "broken brains," or suffer from a "disease" that will require them to take medication all their lives.

    c) Get good data on the violence issue.
    Public policy is often driven by fear of the severely mentally ill. But what is the real data on this issue? Do the severely mentally ill commit homicides or violent crime at any greater rate than the general population? Prior to 1955, when neuroleptics were first introduced, four studies found that patients discharged from mental hospitals committed crimes at either the same or a lower rate than the general population. Has this changed? And if so, why? The other part of this story that we never hear about is violence against the mentally ill. They are at dramatically heightened risk of sexual abuse, assault, etc. ­ in other words, they have more reason to fear society than society has to fear them. We need to have some good studies that look at both sides of this question, and then perhaps this violence stereotype can be laid to rest.



    April 28, 2002 - News of the Week

    OPEN TO ALL

    Join an ONLINE FORUM - a follow-up to the April 28 PBS broadcast about John Forbes Nash, Jr., "A Brilliant Madness."
    NOW...UNTIL MAY 3

    EXCELLENT QUESTIONS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE OPENING DOORS TO DISCUSSION

    Now's your chance to buttonhole a panel of experts. Read other peoples' questions and answers. Daily until May 3.

    CLICK TO VIEW THE PBS ONLINE FORUM http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/sfeature/sf_forum.html

    Fielding the questions:

  • Alex Beam, award-winning journalist, The Boston Globe; author of Gracefully Insane: The Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital

  • Laurie Flynn, former NAMI executive director, now at Columbia University's Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

  • Frederick J. Frese, III, Ph.D., retired psychology director in Ohio State Hospital system; former NAMI vice-president; eloquent longtime advocate

  • Irving Gottesman, Ph.D., senior fellow in psychology at the U. of Minnesota; author of Schizophrenia Genesis: The Origin of Madness

  • Raquel E. Gur, M.D., Ph.D., professor, University of Pennsylvania; founder of interdisciplinary program seeking to understand and treat schizophrenia complexities

  • John Hsaio, M.D., National Institute of Mental Health; editor of Schizophrenia Bulletin; director of clinical trials comparing antipsychotic medications

  • E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., author; director Stanley Medical Research Institute; president Treatment Advocacy Center

  • Robert Whitaker, journalist, author of Mad in America, Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill

  • Click to visit the information-packed Home Page for "A Brilliant Madness http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/


    April 21, 2002 - News of the Week

    BEAUTIFUL MINDS SPEAK OUT

    A FREEDOM RALLY Will Protest Dr. Torrey on Thursday, May 2, 2002 in Rockville, Maryland


    Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist and the president of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) in Arlington, Virginia, is escalating his push for forced psychiatric medication and massive cuts in federal funding for consumer organizations, empowerment, and self-determination. Torrey has also lashed out against the National Institute of Mental Health and the Center for Mental Health Services, a federal agency that supports the inclusion of consumers/survivors in planning programs that promote recovery and access to voluntary mental health treatments. (See this page's NEWS entry, "Dr. Torrey Takes On System.")

    A cross-section of disabilities advocates will protest Dr. Torrey's efforts to expand use of force and coercion on Thursday, May 2, when Torrey will be keynote speaker at a NAMI meeting at the Double Tree Hotel in Rockville, Maryland. The rally is spearheaded by Laura Van Tosh and the Montgomery County Coalition for Human Rights in Mental Health. The speakers will include twenty-five key leaders representing a broad base of support.

    Protesters will assemble at the Double Tree Hotel, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland at 5 PM, Phone: (301) 468-1100. Driving directions: http://www.doubletreerockville.com.

    For more information: FreedomRally@aol.com.

    National Stigma Clearinghouse Endorses Consumers/Survivors' Need To Be Heard

    Five years ago in Psychiatric Services (Feb. 1997), Dr. Torrey blamed psychiatric consumers/survivors for the deaths of "a large number of psychiatric non-survivors." The targets of Torrey's malicious accusation were people who opposed his forced-treatment agenda. To support his view, Torrey chose to quote the most radical members of the large and diverse psychiatric survivor movement (and he defined "survivor" on his own terms.)

    The term "survivor" implies emergence from a harrowing experience. To survive means "to live in spite of." More and more survivors of mental illnesses are reaching back to impart hope to others who cope with symptoms of psychotic illnesses. We applaud this progressive trend and the wide variety of improvement/recovery role models it represents.

    April 14, 2002 - News of the Week

    SYSTEM FAILED DESPITE KENDRA'S LAW -
    IS ANOTHER NEW LAW THE ANSWER?

    When New York's Governor George E. Pataki signed Kendra's Law in the autumn of 1999, it was accompanied by a one-time-only modest addition of funds to carry out the law's mandate for court-ordered treatment. There was no promise of future funding to pay for the enriched services required to make "assisted treatment" a viable program for people ordered to take medication.

    The result today is that underfunded community programs have been forced to stretch their budgets and asked to do more with less. The expiration and non-renewal of the highly-praised Community Reinvestment Act, which shifted funds from shut-down hospital beds to community programs, is a further demoralizing blow. A staffing crisis has developed as underpaid community workers move on to better jobs at alarming rates. In Nassau County, New York, a respected agency has lost two-thirds of its case managers in the past four years.

    Four weeks ago in Nassau County, Peter Troy, a man known to the system as "so unstable that he needed to be closely monitored" eluded a community program "so understaffed it is in a crisis situation." Early reports indicate that two deaths, a priest and a parishioner attending Mass in Lynbrook, Long Island, were a tragic result of Troy's loss of contact with services.

    Once again, a new law is proposed to fix the problem. At a cost of $1.25 billion spread over five years, involuntary psychiatric hospitalization records would be added to the federal computer system that currently checks for criminal backgrounds of potential gun purchasers. On April 9, U. S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York announced that in June the federal bill will be introduced in Congress.

    Joseph A. Glazer, Esq., President/CEO of the New York Mental Health Association (see below), quickly wrote to Senator Schumer urging him to reconsider the proposal, suggesting a better use for public money. "How many new case managers would that $1.25 billion bring into our system? How many community-based programs would that money shore up? ... At this very moment, we are continuing our effort to get direct care workers in mental health a living wage, to better our treatment system, and stem the staff vacancy rates that approach 50 percent in some of our progams. ... Simply put, it is erroneous, prejudicial, discriminatory and stigmatizing to equate a person receiving mental health treatment with criminality, as your proposal does. There is no factual basis to link a person who receives help for their mental health needs and some non-existent connection to increased gun violence. ... Criminal background checks are for criminals. Money spent in pursuit of issues of mental health should be spent in treating mental health, not stigmatizing it."

    Glazer's views were echoed in a Newsday opinion piece by Christopher Slobogin, a professor at the University of Florida's G.Levin College of Law (see below). Slobogin urges that before jumping on the new-law bandwagon, people should consider what is known about violence and mental illnesses. All studies show there is little difference in homicide rates for people diagnosed with mental illnesses and the general public. Higher rates of homicide correlate with significant arrest records, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse, not mental illness. Slobogin points out that people are dangerous to others or to themselves for all sorts of reasons: domestic abusers, disgruntled employees, and bankrupt business executives. "Should we bar gun sales to spouses who have had violent arguments, workers who are angry at their bosses, and all Enron executives?" Slobogin asks. "Why stop with people who suffer with mental illness? Following the lead of some European countries with stricter gun laws than ours, perhaps we should make in-depth inquiries about every gun purchaser, not just those who happen to have a diagnosis of mental illness."

    Neil Slater, president of the Nassau and Queens chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill also opposes the bill on the grounds that "it seems to be an abrogation of the Constitution to deny a civil right that is available to others [purchase of a long gun] to somebody who once suffered from a mental illness and has recovered."

    Kendra's Law was created after Andrew Goldsein, a man who kept asking New York's psychiatric institutions to do something about his uncontrollable violent impulses, fell through "the cracks." We don't know Peter Troy's full story, but it appears he has fallen through the same cracks. In the words of Joseph Glazer, "People will continue to slip through the cracks until we fill them."


    For a copy of Joseph Glazer's letter to Sen. Schumer, April 10, E-mail: mhapres@mhanys.org

    For the Newsday opinion article, "Don't Target Mentally Ill in Gun Checks," April 11,
    click here.

    Also see NYS Public Radio article, April 13, Click here.

    April 7, 2002 - News of the Week


    DR. TORREY TAKES ON SYSTEM


    E. Fuller Torrey has never been a mild man. Throughout the 1980's he fought hard to reverse the nation's abandonment of people who cope with psychosis-causing illnesses. His legacy, it seemed then, might be a system of community programs and supports that would assist people who live with sometimes-disabling but mostly-manageable psychiatric conditions.

    Today, Torrey is still critical of the system, but he is lashing out against people who have used psychiatic services and found them unsuitable.  Torrey also dismisses any benefit of  including people who have first-hand experience of psychiatric disabilities in the reform of psychiatric services..

    In an article in The Washington Monthly (April 2002), Torrey's fundamental message is that forced outpatient medication is necessary for a successful system. The article is not on the magazine's website, but it can be seen by going to http://www.mindfreedom.org/mindfreedom/torrey_g.shtml), the website of Support Coalition International.

    It's a long article filled with criticisms of people and organizations that Torrey blames for the present crisis in care. We fired off a letter of protest to The Washington Monthly, and recommend others do the same: The Washington Monthly, 733 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005, or E-mail editors@washingtonmonthly.com.

    As usual, it is hard to spot the inaccuracies that typically lurk in Torrey's writing. Only people who are close to the advocacy movement will easily spot his biased quotes and the misrepresentations of views he dislikes.

    Special Alert, 4/05/02

    MARK YOUR CALENDAR NOW!

    "A BRILLIANT MADNESS," April 28
    A film about John Forbes Nash, Jr.
    Sunday night, 9PM Eastern, PBS-TV
    on "An American Experience"


    Go to the website http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/ for a teachers' guide, an interview with John Nash, an explanation of game theory, a timeline history of psychiatric treatments, and more.

    A discussion forum will feature:
    Alex Beam, Laurie Flynn, Frederick Frese III, Irving Gottesman, Raquel E. Gur, John Hsiao, E. Fuller Torrey, and Robert Whitaker

    Send questions to the forum panel before May 3. Go to website http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/sfeature/sf_forum.html

    Check local listings for broadcast schedule.

    March 31, 2002 - News of the Week


    ABC-TV DISAPPOINTS A YOUNG ADULT AUDIENCE
    WITH PLANS TO CANCEL "ONCE AND AGAIN"


    After three seasons, "Once and Again," (OandA) will end on April 15 according to ABC-TV Programming President Susan Lyne. Audience acclaim and Golden Globe nominations were not enough to save this Monday-night series. The critics' consensus, in the words of the Detroit Free Press, is that the show is a superlative family drama.

    The OandA Home Page Message Board is passionate testimony to a young-adult audience's devotion to the series. The empathetic cast of characters consists of forty-something parents, both divorced with young adult children, and an assortment of ex-spouses and friends.

    From the point of view of a mental health advocate, the series' two episodes centering on a family member who lives in a group home showed remarkable scope and sensitivity. Aaron, a brother of the show's main character, Lily, has made progress in his recovery from an unnamed illness that resembles schizophrenia, and he is moving to an apartment as a big step forward. Tension erupts when Aaron insists that his girlfriend, who also lives at the group home but is not ready for more independent living, must move to the new apartment with him.

    Aaron's supportive family and their complex reactions to his "list of dreams" are a far cry from the cookie-cutter stereotypes that the entertainment industry has substituted for authenticity for decades. Two years ago, ABC incensed advocates with the short-lived "Wonderland," a hyperactive series based on psychiatric emergencies. Earlier, the Drew Carey Show made a "violent mental patient" the butt of jokes in two episodes.

    The circumstances of OandA -- excellent writing and cast, authenticity, and an attraction to complex topics -- offered a chance to follow Aaron's struggle to rebuild his life. Now it seems that opportunity is lost, at least for the present.

    Send your views via snail mail to ABC's owner, The Disney Company.
  • Write to Michael Eisner, Chairman & CEO, The Disney Company, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA, 91521-4551. Fax 818-846-7319.

  • Write or Fax Lloyd Braun, Chairman of ABC Entertainment, Fax 818-460-5269 or 5259. For mail, use the same address as Eisner.

  • E-mail: netaudr@abc.com and abc.audience.relations@abc.com

    CLICK HERE FOR THE "Once and Again" WEBSITE.

  • What's your view? We'd like to know...E-mail stigmanet@webtv.net

    March 24, 2002 - News of the Week


    "A BEAUTIFUL MIND"
    Will it change the way people think about schizophrenia?

    This year's best movie and a brilliant best-selling biography, both called "A Beautiful Mind," have the public buzzing about a mathematics genius who won a Nobel prize. Thirty years passed before the prize was awarded because the man's life was interrupted by the disabling symptoms of schizophrenia.

    People are turning to Sylvia Nasar's biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr. to find what they sense is missing from the movie. The desire to know more has kept the book on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list for eleven weeks -- and still counting.

    The book's influence already has been profound. It led Miriam Davis, the chief medical writer for the U. S. Surgeon General's 1999 report on mental health, to discover new insights about the discrimination that plagues people with mental illnesses (see below). A thorough examination of prejudice and stigma was subsequently included in the report, and both the Surgeon General and the Entertainment Industries Council (see below) have asked the entertainment industry to consider this information when they depict mental illnesses.

    When Nash was chosen in 1994 for a Nobel prize in economics, Sylvia Nasar told his story in the Business Section of the New York Times. The National Stigma Clearinghouse ran the article, "The Lost Years of a Nobel Laureate," in its anti-stigma report of November 1994. We never guessed that Sylvia Nasar would choose to spend the next few years uncovering the full account of the Nashes' story. When a copy of "A Beautiful Mind" arrived unexpectedly in our mail in 1998, the title alone signaled Nasar's unique scholarly achievement.

    Even before winning an Oscar for "best movie," Ron Howard's film adaptation of the Nash biography caused jubilation among advocates. By breaking the stereotypic mold, the movie reduces the power of labels. The film reveals John Nash as a unique individual, as is everyone who battles a serious illness. This person-first image was reinforced by the convincing performances of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash. Under Howard's direction, the movie succeeds in portraying the inner forces that derailed Nash's life by showing his hallucinations as two literal subplots: one a dark action thriller, the other a congenial roommate. Although the subplots are not in the book, in the film they help the audience understand the motivation for his behavior.

    In essence, the movie is true to Sylvia Nasar's biography. Still, it leaves out the book's fascinating twists and turns that keep readers turning pages as they would a good novel. The suspenseful ending, which unfortunately is not in the movie, reveals behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Nobel candidates' supporters. It is here we see how Nash's link to mental illness nearly cost him the Nobel prize.

    Amost certainly, "A Beautiful Mind" has aroused new public interest, understanding, and respect for individuals affected by the group of illnesses known as schizophrenia. But during the Oscar presentation, a Hollywood figure called John Nash "a schizophrenic." No one called Iris Murdoch "an alzheimers." There is still a long way to go.

    Go To:
    "10 Recommendations" by Entertainment Industries Council Click here
    Miriam Davis article, "Learning From a Troubled Genius," The Washington Post, Click here, then scroll to December 30

    March 17, 2002 - News of the Week

    MEDIA ALERT!

    WATCH "ONCE AND AGAIN" on ABC-TV, MONDAY, MARCH 25
    Episode : "Aaron's List of Dreams"

    On Monday night, March 25, at 10ET / 9C, the Golden Globe-nominated ABC-TV family drama series, "Once and Again," will re-introduce the character, Aaron. In an earlier episode, Aaron was portrayed as having schizophrenia and was living in a group home.

    The show's producers and creators, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, may plan to keep Aaron in the series. If so, they are to be commended for portraying a character with schizophrenia as a complex, loved, and valued family member (Aaron is the brother of Lily, the show's main character). Now in its third season, "Once and Again" has taken on a range of complex issues that affect modern families.

    How well does the program portray people who have "mental illnesses"?

    YOUR RESPONSE will interest ABC-TV.

  • Write to the producers: Once and Again, Touchstone TV, 8660 Haydon Place, Culver City, CA 90232

  • Go to the program's website: Once and Again Home

  • Write to the top executives: Michael Eisner, The Disney Company, 500 South Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521-4551
    Stuart Blumberg, President, ABC Entertainment Division, 2300 Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 91521

  • Write or call Christine Hikawa, Vice-President for Program Practices, ABC, Inc., 66 West 77 Street, New York, NY 10023. Tel: 212-456-7777

  • We'd like to hear your views, too. Email stigmanet@webtv.net


  • March 10, 2002 - News of the Week


    BEYOND BELIEF IN NEW YORK CITY !

    City Defies Court Order To Provide Discharge Planning

    A New York State law
    requires discharge plans when people leave psychiatric institutions and other treatment programs. But under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York City chose to deny discharge plans to mentally ill people leaving the city's jails. The result: people receiving treatment in jail progams abruptly lose all mental health services when they leave the jail. The released patients are sent back to the community without vital Medicaid benefits or access to supportive programs. In other words, their lifelines are cut.

    The city has defiantly fought a lawsuit to provide discharge planning (Brad H vs. City of New York) filed by the Urban Justice Center in 1999. After losing two appeals, the city now faces a contempt hearing in the coming weeks.

    Each year, 25,000 mentally ill inmates leave New York City's jails; nearly half are homeless. They get $1.50, a 2-trip subway ticket, and a bus ride that deposits them between 2 AM and 6 AM at a subway station. Only a fraction of the released patients are lucky enough to find programs that assess their needs and direct them to shelter, food, and continuing treatment. Many are arrested over and over as they cycle in and out of jail for minor offenses that are traceable to illness, homelessness, and self-medication with alcohol or street drugs.

    This callous and bizarre scene is the outgrowth of a long city/state stalemate over responsibility for people with psychiatric disabilities. While key officials play shell games, the Department of Corrections is incarcerating growing numbers of people with mental illnesses. The trend, aptly called the "criminalization of mental illness," adds new fuel to the public's already exaggerated beliefs about dangerousness.

    New York City's people-dumping policy is more than inhumane, it is wasteful. Millions of dollars are spent for emergency services, jails, shelters, and hospitals because people with mental illnesses never connect with stable, coordinated community programs.

    Do New Yorkers condone this costly, corrosive situation, or are they unaware of it? Wouldn't the public demand immediate action if the lives of people with any other illness or disability were at stake?

    What's your view? E-mail stigmanet@webtv.net


    READ -- SAVE -- CIRCULATE !!!

    New York Times OP-ED
    March 10, 2002
    Beautiful Minds Can Be Recovered
    By COURTENAY M. HARDING


    Online: Click Here

    BOSTON — The film "A Beautiful Mind," about the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John F. Nash Jr., portrays his recovery from schizophrenia as hard-won, awe-inspiring and unusual. What most Americans and even many psychiatrists do not realize is that many people with schizophrenia — perhaps more than half — do significantly improve or recover. That is, they can function socially, work, relate well to others and live in the larger community. Many can be symptom-free without medication.

    They improve without fanfare and frequently without much help from the mental health system. Many recover because of sheer persistence at fighting to get better, combined with family or community support. Though some shake off the illness in two to five years, others improve much more slowly. Yet people have recovered even after 30 or 40 years with schizophrenia. The question is, why haven't we set up systems of care that encourage many more people with schizophrenia to reclaim their lives?

    We have known what to do and how to do it since the mid-1950's. George Brooks, clinical director of a Vermont hospital, was using thorazine, then a new drug, to treat patients formerly dismissed as hopeless. He found that for many, the medication was not enough to allow them to leave the hospital. Collaborating with patients, he developed a comprehensive and flexible program of psychosocial rehabilitation. The hospital staff helped patients develop social and work skills, cope with daily living and regain confidence. After a few months in this program, many of the patients who hadn't responded to medication alone were well enough to go back to their communities. The hospital also built a community system to help patients after they were discharged.

    These results were lasting. In the 1980's, when the patients who had been through this program in the 50's were contacted for a University of Vermont study, 62 percent to 68 percent were found to be significantly improved from their original condition or to have completely recovered. The most amazing finding was that 45 percent of all those in Dr. Brooks's program no longer had signs or symptoms of any mental illness three decades later.

    Today, most of the 2.5 million Americans with schizophrenia do not get the kind of care that worked so well in Vermont. Instead, they are treated in community mental health centers that provide medication — which works to reduce painful symptoms in about 60 percent of cases — and little else. There is rarely enough money for truly effective rehabilitation programs that help people manage their lives.

    Unfortunately, psychiatrists and others who care for the mentally ill are often trained from textbooks written at the turn of the last century — the most notable by two European doctors: Emil Kraepelin in Germany and Eugen Bleuler in Switzerland. These books state flatly that improvement and recovery are not to be expected.

    Kraepelin worked in back wards that simply warehoused patients, including some in the final stages of syphilis who were wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bleuler, initially more optimistic, revised his prognoses downward after studying only hospitalized patients — samples of convenience — rather than including patients who were ultimately discharged.

    The American Psychiatric Association's newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — D.S.M.-IV, published in 1994 — repeats this old pessimism. Reinforcing this gloomy view are the crowded day rooms and shelters and large public mental-health caseloads.

    Also working against effective treatment are destructive social forces like prejudice, discrimination and poverty, as well as overzealous cost containment in public and private insurance coverage. Public dialogue is mostly about ensuring that people take their medication, with little said about providing ways to return to productive lives. We promote a self-fulfilling prophecy of a downward course and then throw up our hands and blame the ill person, or the illness itself, as not remediable.

    In addition to the Vermont study, nine other contemporary research studies from across the world have all found that over decades, the number of those improving and even recovering from schizophrenia gets larger and larger. These long-term, in-depth studies followed people for decades, whether or not they remained in treatment, and found that 46 percent to 68 percent showed significant improvement or had recovered. Earlier research had been short-term and had looked only at patients in treatment.

    Although there are many pathways to recovery, several factors stand out. They include a home, a job, friends and integration in the community. They also include hope, relearned optimism and self-sufficiency.

    Treatment based on the hope of recovery has had periodic support. In 1961 a report of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Neurology and the Justice Department said, "The fallacies of total insanity, hopelessness and incurability should be attacked and the prospects of recovery and improvement though modern concepts of treatment and rehabilitation emphasized." In 1984, the National Institute of Mental Health recommended community support programs that try to bolster patients' sense of personal dignity and encourage self-determination, peer support and the involvement of families and communities. Now there are renewed calls for recovery-oriented treatment. They should be heeded. We need major shifts in actual practice.
     
    Can all patients make the improvement of a John Nash? No. Schizophrenia is not one disease with one cause and one treatment. But we, as a society, should recognize a moral imperative to listen to what science has told us since 1955 and what patients told us long before. Many mentally ill people have the capacity to lead productive lives in full citizenship. We should have the courage to provide that opportunity for them.

    Courtenay M. Harding is a senior director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Website:Institute for the Study of Human Resilience
    (http://www.bu.edu/resilience)

    March 3, 2002 - News of the Week

    Although New York State is the focus of the news item below, reports indicate a growing nationwide crisis in services for people with serious mental health needs. Is this an issue of prejudice and discrimination? What's your view? E-mail stigmanet@webtv.net

    LOW WAGES THREATEN NEW YORK'S COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMS

    Will The State Legislature Act To Avert A Crisis?


    The people who work in New York's not-for-profit community mental health programs are paid far less than mental health workers who are employed by New York State.

    Every year, these low-paid community workers must negotiate with the Governor and the Legislature in hopes of receiving, at the least, a cost-of-living salary increase. Too often their efforts fail. Unlike the state's unionized workers with comparable jobs, this year, once again, the community workers are left out of the Governor's budget proposal.

    It is not surprising that turnover in the community workforce averages 50 percent per year. Now, this worsening situation may undermine essential community residence programs and community services, already in drastically short supply.

    New York has worked for 30 years to downsize its massive system of 22 state psychiatric hospitals (and in the process, shifted many millions of dollars to the state's general fund.) In those 30 years, the number of state-operated psychiatric beds has dropped from 93,000 to 4,500.

    With the drop in institutional care came a shift of responsibility to communities. Still, only 20 percent of the state's $4.3 billion mental health budget is spent on community support services for the 230,000 New Yorkers who legally qualify for such services: people who require safe housing, help with tasks of daily living, and programs that help them link with supportive networks in the community.

    In other words, an estimated 230,000 individuals with psychosis-causing illnesses requiring an array of community support services are allotted a small piece of the total state mental health budget.

    February 24, 2001 - News of the Week

    FLASH!

    "A Beautiful Mind" by Sylvia Nasar is this week's #1 Paperback Best Seller (New York Times list, 2/24/02).

    This totally-absorbing biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel Laureate who battled schizophrenia, has been on the list for 7 weeks and counting. The book, and Ron Howard's film adaptation, is causing millions of readers and movie-goers to rethink old beliefs about schizophrenia. (To congratulate Ms. Nasar, write to Sylvia Nasar c/o Trade Paperback Publicity Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.



    "BREAKING THE SILENCE" LESSON PLANS

    PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING, UPROOT STEREOTYPES


    Responding to childrens' need for non-prejudicial information about mental illnesses, a group of educators and advocates in Long Island, New York has developed lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students. The plans are available at cost from the Queens/Nassau branch of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Telephone: 516-326-0797.

    News of the unique plans is spreading across the country and even overseas. The article below is from Long Island NEWSDAY, February 5, 2002.

    Informing Students About Mental Illness
    by John Hildebrand

    Informing Students

    "If I tell them what is happening, they will probably think I am losing my mind and make me see a psychiatrist, Scott thought to himself. God, it's scary.... I get to school in the morning, and everyone is staring at me. A bunch of kids will be standing in the hall. I can telll that they are talking about me. I hear them saying my name, while they're standing around laughing and making jokes. I can just tell." - from Brave New Brain by Dr. Nancy C. Andreason.

    Scott doesn't know it yet, and neither do his parents, friends or teachers. But the 17-year-old is suffering from schizophrenia.

    Ask teens what they know about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and the answer typically will be "not much." Some might mention a TV show they once saw about a woman with multiple personalities (which is commonly mistaken for schizophrenia) or a homeless man they once bumped into on the sidewalk.

    Too bad students aren't better informed, because schizophrenia usually strikes between ages 15 and 25. More than one American in every 100 is affected, and the next victim could well be a college roommate, or the guy with an adjacent locker in the school gym.

    "I tell them this can happen," says Gail Weintraub, a health teacher at Hewlett High School. "You can hear a pin drop in the class."

    Weintraub works mostly with 10th-graders, devoting two weeks of her classes each semester to various mental disorders. She also is one of a growing number of instructors who use lessons sponsored by a nonprofit grassroots organization, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

    One lesson written for younger teens features a word-search game with names of famous people who have dealt with brain disorders. Among them are comic actor Jim Carrey, who has suffered from depression, actress Margot Kidder (manic depression), and math genius John Nash (schizophrenia).

    Nash, you may recall, is the subject of the movie "A Beautiful Mind." The movie traces Nash's life - admittedly, in a Hollywoodized version - as he struggles with the hallucinations common to his illness and ultimately wins a Nobel Prize in economics.

    Both the movie and actor Russell Crowe, who plays Nash, are considered virtual shoo-ins next week for Oscar nominations. Judging from comments some teachers already are picking up from students, publicity surrounding the film should help boost awareness of mental illness.

    Carol Andre, who teaches health at Alfred G. Berner Middle School in Massapequa, recalls one seventh-grader who came into class recently and started talking about Crowe's portrayal.

    "She was very excited," Andre says. "Any time there's awareness, even if it's on a subliminal level, every little bit helps."

    Causes of schizophrenia still are not well understood, through research in the field is growing. Schizophrenia is considered a brain disease and is treatable with medication. One possible cause is a chemical imbalance in the brain that may make it difficult for those afflicted to concentrate on schoolwork or even on conversatioons with friends.

    Typically, victims hear imaginary voices. Their terrified reactions often are misdiagnosed as the result of drug or alcohol abuse, especially since they may indeed drink or smoke marijuana in attempts to relieve symptoms they don't understand.

    "Teachers can misjudge these children, if they don't know what's going on, as lazy, as behavior problems," says Lorraine Kaplan of Plainview, co-author of the NAMI lesson plans. "We need to think of this as a no-fault illness, one that nobody pushed someone into and one that nobody wants."

    Kaplan herself is a former teacher who retired in 1991 after 28 years in the classroom. As such, she has taken her share of college psychology courses. Even so, Kaplan was caught by surprise when her own teenage son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1973. He is now in his 40s.

    As a parent, Kaplan was encouraged to keep quiet about her son's illness, to avoid possible stigma, an approach she now regrets. The experience inspired the title of the lesson plans, "Breaking the Silence," which she wrote with two colleagues, Janet Susin and Louise Slater.

    Copies of the recently revised lessons may be obtained at cost by calling the Queens/Nassau branch of NAMI at 516-326-0797.

    Copyright (c) 2002, Newsday, Inc.

    February 17, 2002 - News of the Week



    IS TAC CHANGING ITS TUNE?
    CAN YEARS OF DAMAGE BE UNDONE?

    For years, the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) has used fear tactics to win support for coerced antipsychotic medication. Is TAC toning down its message? Additions and deletions on its website
    click here suggest this may be the case. (For some examples of fear tactics, click here).

    In a switch, the TAC home page now gives site visitors a few options that are non-proselytizing and unrelated to violence. A TAC briefing paper, "How Many Homicides Per Year Are Commited By Individuals With Severe Psychiatric Disorders?" appears to have been dropped. Sensationalistic statements to the press and article titles are less melodramatic. Some fear-mongering articles have been dropped or buried somewhere.

    But still, the site continues to be a minefield of misleading statements and half-truths.

    Looking back, it was in October 1993 that E. Fuller Torrey, at a psychiatrists' meeting in Baltimore, unveiled his now-familiar idea that "the public stereotype that links mental illness to violence is based on reality and not merely on stigma." But the shift to emphasize and exaggerate violence had emerged much earlier. In November 1991, a fear-mongering feature in the Toronto Star stated that "100,000 schizophrenics and manic-depressives roam the urban jungle [New York City]. The article said, "Their presence is not merely harrowing. It is dangerous." It went on to quote D. J. Jaffe, who had recently joined forces with Dr. Torrey. It appears that Patricia Pearson, the Toronto Star's reporter, had relied on Jaffe for her information, since no other source was mentioned.

    By 1994, the Torrey-Jaffe team was creating the Treatment Advocacy Center and proposing stiff new state commitment laws. A briefing paper circulated by Jaffe in 1994 stated: "According to a just released report by my friend, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, individuals with neurobiological disorders (NBD, formerly known as 'mental illness') as a group are more violent than the general population. There are more people with these disorders in jails and prisons than their presence in the population would indicate. In other words, public fears of violence by individuals with NBD are not unfounded." Before long, editorials by Jaffe or Torrey (such as one titled "Mental Illness, Public Safety," New York Times, December 1995), began to appear in the news media.

    We rehash this history because it is unclear whether TAC is moving to reverse its decade-long reliance on bloated and repetitive claims about homicide to win public support for its agenda. Although TAC may be adding some broader information to its website, it continues to tailor the research findings of others to agree with its views. It is nearly impossible for readers to detect the errors that result.

    Take for example a new briefing paper called "Stigma and Violence." TAC uses a series of New York Times articles concerning 50 years of multiple murders (April 2000) to support its contention that homicide by individuals with severe psychiatic disorders is a root-cause of stigma. TAC cites the Times' finding that nearly half the "rampage killers" had a psychiatric diagnosis (a hindsight decision in half the cases). But TAC neglected to mention the death toll: 17 deaths in a peak year. This is not a big public safety issue; the figure is imperceptible compared to other accidental deaths. Medical mistakes are said to account for 44,0000-98,000 deaths each year. There are over 40,000 highway deaths annually, 1,400 accidental gun deaths, 800 fatalities from running red lights, 16,000 fatal falls, 4,000 drownings, 8,000 deaths from accidental poisoning, and on and on.

    Furthermore, TAC chose to ignore the fact that among the 24 slayers in the Times articles who had been prescribed medication, nearly half (10) were taking it at the time of the murders. This is significant because TAC's fundamental message has been that homicides are commited by unmedicated individuals.

    When TAC states that stigma stems from violent crimes, it implies that the media report these crimes like any other. Not true! TAC ignores the conclusions of prominent researchers who found that the news media over-report psychiatric crimes, position them more prominently than other crimes, and keep them in the public eye longer. These practices help to explain TAC's success with the media.

    A TAC briefing paper says that "people with a history of severe mental illness" commit 1,000 homicides annually. But to support this claim, TAC cites a 1994 Department of Justice study whose author has confirmed to us that the study contains nothing about diagnosis, severity of illness, or treatment. By adding the word severe TAC distorts the report's findings to suit its needs. (Actually, the 1,000 figure looks like the work of a math contortionist.)

    Another briefing paper says that "1,000 homicides are commited each year by people with untreated schizophrenia or manic-depression". Again, this is a guesstimate. But if true, it would mean that members of this small segment of the population commit 20 homicides every week, year after year. Where's the hard evidence?

    Unfortunately, the mental health community lacks concrete information about violence and mental illnesses. TAC has filled in the blanks with self-serving numbers, harped repeatedly on any homicides that occur and, in our view, fueled the prejudice that hampers advocacy efforts.

    What's your view? E-mail stigmanet@webtv.net.

    February 10, 2002 - News of the Week


    DR. DEEGAN'S STUNNING NEW WEBSITES
    Intentional Care
    Joshua Tree Center for Ex-Patient Studies


    We and many others view Patricia E. Deegan, Ph.D., with awe. Our enchantment began twelve years ago when Pat, a survivor of schizophrenia, spoke on the topic, How Recovery Begins, at an annual educational conference of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of New York State. That same year (1990) we invited Pat Deegan to join Joanne Verbanick, Phyllis Vine, and Otto Wahl in a talking-heads discussion on PBS about prejudice and discrimination. (The hour-long feature's producer at Rutgers University received an unprecedented number of requests for copies of the discussion, and the video continues to draw audiences at mental health conferences.)

    During the 1980's and '90's, Pat Deegan produced a body of writings, speeches, and articles that reached out to psychiatric survivors first and foremost, but also provided unprecedented insight to outsiders with no understanding of the experience of mental illnesses. Her titles alone convey powerful messages:

    Recovery: The Lived Experience of Rehabilitation

    Is There Room in the Human Heart for Human Services?

    A Letter To My Friend Who Is Giving Up

    Real Lives For Real People: Integration Through Psychosocial Rehabiltation

    Spirit Breaking: When the Helping Professions Hurt

    Recovering Our Sense of Value After Being Labeled "Mentally Ill"

    Consumer Empowerment and Recovery: The New Horizon

    Recovery, Rehabilitation and the Conspiracy of Hope.


    In the mid-1990's, Pat's curriculum on Hearing Voices That Are Distressing broke new ground and introduced useful concepts for enhancing public education.

    Mental health advocates worldwide will appreciate the appearance of http://www.intentionalcare.org and http://www.bu.edu/resilience/joshuatree/ We suggest that public officials, legislators, and member of the public save them on their list of Favorites.

    Please note: The "Intentional Care" site may be unreachable for some browsers. The WebTV system, for example, cannot reach it. (WebTV also cannot access the NAMI site and others that lack backwards-compatible technology.)


    January 20, 2002 - News of the Week

    (1) LANGUAGE MATTERS
    Harold A. Maio (e-mail: khmaio@earthlink.net) in Ft. Myers, Florida is an advocate and educator commited to uprooting prejudicial language. Take for example the standard term, "least restricted setting." Harold would use the more bias-free phrase, "most integrated setting," removing the implication that people with psychiatric vulnerabilities need restricting.

    An editorial by Harold Maio, "The Language of Advocacy," appears in the January/February issue of Enabled Online. Go to the article.

    (2) KUDOS DUE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
    In the real world, shortchanged mental health budgets are being decimated by a soaring need for services. Homelessness is growing, jail and prison sentences are criminalizing tens of thousands of people with mental illnesses, and prisoner suicides are on the rise.

    But in the world of entertainment the scene looks brighter, maybe even upbeat. Characters said to have mental illnesses are getting more rounded roles -- sometimes even non-violent ones!

    If you agree that portrayals of mental illnesses have broadened to include more variety, authenticity, sensitivity, and less stereotyping, violence, and exploitation, let the people responsible hear your words of praise and encouragement..

    Can't find contact information? Try the media directories (TV, cable, and movie-makers) in "Challenging Stereotypes: An Action Guide," available online, or in a free 32-page booklet from the federal agency, CMHS. Get the free booklet by calling 1-800-989-2647 (publication #SMA-01-3513). OR, to view the booklet online, go to http://www.mentalhealth.org/stigma/pubs.asp. Scroll down to "Challenging Stereotypes" then to the chapter,"Delivering Your Message," then to "Lists of Key Media Sources." (Enter all web addresses manually.)

    Praise is due the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) (http://www.eiconline.org) for encouraging writers, directors, and producers to take a closer look at how they depict mental illnesses. For an example, see EIC's "TEN IDEAS FOR DEPICTING MENTAL ILLNESSES." Click http://community-2.webtv.net/stigmanet/MediaIssues.

    The EIC wants to hear your views! Let's keep mental health high on their list of priorities. E-mail Barbara Lurie: blurie@eiconline.org.

    Special thanks are owed to U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, who will soon be leaving his post. Dr. Satcher took an unprecedented interest in mental health issues and made giant strides to focus national attention on suicide prevention; culture, race and ethnicity; and the harm that prejudice inflicts on people diagnosed with psychiatric conditions. The Surgeon General's reports are online at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports.htm.

    January 13, 2002 - News of the Week

    "ER" BRINGS BACK A VIOLENT CHARACTER -- NOW A CHANGED MAN

    BUT IS THIS PROGRESS? WHAT'S YOUR VIEW?


    E-mail: stigmanet@webtv.net
    E-mail: er@nbc.com

    Should NBC-TV be praised for this week's episode of "ER" ? Here's a summary of how an advocate described the show.

    On Thursday, January 10, "ER" re-introduced Paul Sobriki, a character first seen in February 2000 and described as having schizophrenia. At that time, Paul stabbed two hospital staffers in horrific scenes -- killing Lucy, a favorite of "ER" fans. The story, spread over two episodes, was denounced by mental health advocates for its sensationalism, unauthenticity, and prejudicial effect on viewers.

    In last Thursday's episode Paul was back in the emergency room, this time with a broken arm from falling on ice. He desperately didn't want to be there, knowing how traumatic it would be for the hospital staff to see him again. A nurse who knew of his earlier rampage put him in restraints. This caused a disagreement among the doctor treating Paul, a staff doctor who had been stabbed by him two years earlier, and Paul's psychiatrist. The psychiatrist insisted that restraints were not warranted because for two years Paul had been taking medication, had a family, held a steady job, and had shown no tendency for violence. When Paul's wife and children arrived, they vouched for him and pleaded for his transfer to another hospital to treat the broken arm. In the end, Paul was released and he and his family went to another hospital.

    The question is: What did "ER" fans see? What was their lasting impression? Was it (1) a positive picture of recovery or, (2) a reminder of the horrific killing scene two years ago?

    There ought to be a moratorium on linking violence with mental illnesses in the entertainment media. For many years, the mental health community has taken far more than its share of blame for acts of violence. Granted, the violent character's return sparked an enlightening discussion of how his condition, and his life, had changed. Still, the underlying message appears to be "take meds or be violent."

    We object to the simplistic message that people with mental illnesses are apt to be violent if they don't take medication. This kind of thinking tilts public support toward coercive treatment of mental illnesses and away from long-term planning for people with mental health needs.

    If you saw the "ER" episode on Thursday, what did you think of it? E-mail us at stigmanet@webtv.net.

    To let "ER" know your views: E-mail er@nbc.com. The Executive Producers are John Wells, Jack Orman, and Michael Crichton.

    To let NBC's program executives know your views, write or call:

    Scott Sassa, President
    NBC West Coast
    3000 West Alameda Avenue
    Burbank, CA 91523
    Tel: 1-818-840-4444
    and
    Jeffrey Zucker, President
    NBC Entertainment
    (same as above)

    January 6, 2002 - News of the Week


    THE PUBLIC LOVES "A BEAUTIFUL MIND"

    "Ron Howard's deepy humane movie and Sylvia Nasar's rigorous, demanding book -- to which many moviegoers are turning -- will enlarge society's stock of empathy for those with mental afflictions that are now a bit more comprehensible." George F. Will, NEWSWEEK

    Judging from early box office receipts and audience responses, it appears that the public loves "A Beautiful Mind," a film about Nobel prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr.. Audiences are fascinated by John Nash and enchanted by the beauty of mathematical theory as it is presented. Most movie critics like the film, and so far, psychiatric survivors have given it high marks.

    Less enthusiastic, according to USA Today (Jan. 3), are some mental health professionals who say that while the movie's message of hope is a good thing, Nash's spontaneous recovery from schizophrenia should not be considered typical.

    A large collection of mostly-favorable audience and critics' reviews appears on the website of the Internet Movie Data Base (http://www.imdb.com). Salon and The New York Times gave the film less favorable reviews. (We'll send copies by postal mail on request. E-mail stigmanet@webtv.net. Please include a mailing address.)

     

     

     

     

     

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