NEWS ARCHIVE 2002
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
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"
In the face of self-perpetuating prejudice, only a united
cross-disability community can achieve Justin Dart's call for "No
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
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
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:
Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)
National Stigma Clearinghouse: http://community.webtv.net/stigmanet
Otto Wahl's Home Page: http://mason.gmu.edu/~owahl/INDEX.HTM
Otto F. Wahl, Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness
Otto F. Wahl, Telling Is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers
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
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
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
And we were both wrong.
Harold A. Maio
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/
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.
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
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 email@example.com
Book: Coercion and Aggressive Community
Treatment: A New Frontier in Mental Health Law, Edited by Deborah
L. Dennis and John Monahan
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
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
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
Her coercive concepts of treatment have been discredited by numerous
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
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
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
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?
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
a) Expand the public dialogue so that it includes the voice of
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
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
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
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.
OPEN TO ALL
April 28, 2002 - News of the
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
Click to visit the information-packed Home Page for "A Brilliant
EXCELLENT QUESTIONS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE OPENING DOORS TO
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
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
April 21, 2002 - News of the Week
A FREEDOM RALLY Will Protest Dr. Torrey on Thursday, May 2, 2002 in
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:
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
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
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:
For the Newsday opinion article, "Don't Target Mentally Ill in
Gun Checks," April 11,click
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.
Write or Fax Lloyd Braun, Chairman of ABC
Entertainment, Fax 818-460-5269 or 5259. For mail, use the same address
HERE FOR THE "Once and Again" WEBSITE.
What's your view? We'd like to know...E-mail email@example.com
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
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.
"10 Recommendations" by Entertainment Industries Council Click here
Miriam Davis article, "Learning From a Troubled Genius," The Washington
here, then scroll to December 30
March 17, 2002 - News
of the Week
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.
We'd like to hear your views, too. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 email@example.com
READ -- SAVE -- CIRCULATE !!!
New York Times OP-ED
March 10, 2002
Beautiful Minds Can Be Recovered
By COURTENAY M. HARDING
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
LOW WAGES THREATEN NEW YORK'S COMMUNITY MENTAL
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
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
"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:
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.
February 10, 2002 - News of the Week
DR. DEEGAN'S STUNNING NEW WEBSITES
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
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
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
January 20, 2002 - News of the
(1) LANGUAGE MATTERS
Harold A. Maio (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) 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: email@example.com.
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?
Should NBC-TV be praised for this week's
episode of "ER" ? Here's a summary of how an advocate described the
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
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
If you saw the "ER" episode on Thursday, what did you think of it?
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To let "ER" know your views: E-mail email@example.com.
The Executive Producers are John Wells, Jack Orman, and Michael
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
Jeffrey Zucker, President
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include a mailing address.)