Prepared by: National Stigma Clearinghouse


NEWS ARCHIVE 2004, JANUARY-JUNE


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June 27, 2004 - News of the Week

HAS BIAS STALLED THE HISTORIC OLMSTEAD ACT, INTENDED TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?

Bazelon Center Cites Little Progress in Integrating People With Psychiatric Disabilities Into Communities


Source: The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (http://www.bazelon.org)

WASHINGTON, DC (June 21, 2004)
Five years ago tomorrow, the Supreme Court issued its historic Olmstead decision, affirming that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities should be served in the most integrated setting possible--their communities.

The following is a prepared statement by Ira Burnim, legal director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, on the anniversary of the ruling.

"While many Americans with disabilities have made progress since the Olmstead ruling, people with mental illnesses have been largely left behind in efforts to implement the decision.

Most states are enacting Olmstead reforms at a snail's pace, defying the spirit of the ruling and preventing Americans with mental illnesses from participating in their communities.

Rhetoric has far outstripped action to promote community services for people with mental illnesses. States are quick to trumpet their limited efforts to implement Olmstead, but these have produced little actual movement of people with mental illnesses into integrated community settings.

Budget pressures have closed psychiatric hospitals across the country, but few appropriate community services have been adequately funded to help people with mental illnesses live successfully in the community.

Instead, states have 'transinstitutionalized' people with mental illnesses to settings as outmoded, isolating and inappropriate as the facilities they were meant to replace. Increasing numbers of people with psychiatric disabilities now find themselves in large board and care homes, 'adult homes,' nursing homes, and other institution-like settings.

Thousands wind up in jail or prison because chronically underfunded community mental health systems fail to provide meaningful support.

Where real progress has occurred, it is largely because states have been sued.

Five years after Olmstead and 14 years after enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, litigation should be unnecessary. Yet it remains the single most effective way to combat the persistent  segregation of people with mental illnesses.

It's past time for Olmstead implementation to move out of thecourtroom and into America's communities."

The Bazelon Center spearheaded the disability community's efforts in Olmstead v. L.C., the case that led to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on community integration of people with disabilities. More information on the case-including original court briefs and current articles and publications on Olmstead implementation-is available at www.bazelon.org/olmstead.

Source:  Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (http://www.bazelon.org)

June 13, 2004 - News of the Week

AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE ON ADVANCE DIRECTIVES
Mary Ellen Copeland, an activist/survivor who focuses on mental health strategies that promote recovery, writes about Advance Directives (crisis plans) in the May 2004 issue of the Mental Health Recovery Newsletter.

Copeland's explanation of why advance directives are useful, and how to prepare them, is a stirring glimpse of the first-hand experience of mental illnesses. This empathetic article is particularly valuable for families, friends, and members of the general public who are misinformed or bewildered by psychiatric vulnerabilities.

Click here for Copeland article and more about Advance Directives.

May 16, 2004 - News of the Week

STUDY FINDS FEAR TACTICS WIN PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR COERCION, SEGREGATION, AND AVOIDANCE

BUT NO INCREASE IN RESOURCES
Source:
Psychiatric Services 55:577-580, May 2004
Website: http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/current.shtml ("Brief Reports")
© 2004 American Psychiatric Association

Below are excerpts from the article:
Implications of Educating the Public on Mental Illness, Violence, and Stigma

by Patrick W. Corrigan, Psy.D., Amy C. Watson, Ph.D., Amy C. Warpinski, B.A. and Gabriela Gracia, B.S., B.A.

ABSTRACT
 
This study examined how two types of public education programs influenced how the public perceived persons with mental illness, their potential for violence, and the stigma of mental illness. A total of 161 participants were randomly assigned to one of three programs: one that aimed to combat stigma, one that highlighted the association between violence and psychiatric disorders, and a control group. Participants who completed the education-about-violence program were significantly more likely to report attitudes related to fear and dangerousness, to endorse services that coerced persons into treatment and treated them in segregated areas, to avoid persons with mental illness in social situations, and to be reluctant to help persons with mental illness.

INTRODUCTION

Results of a nationwide probability survey showed that 75 percent of the public view persons with mental illness as dangerous (1). Why do so many members of the general public think that mental illness is strongly linked to a potential for violence? Two answers are common: that this view represents the impact of the stigma of mental illness and that this view is an accurate representation of the level of dangerousness among persons with mental illness. The purpose of this study was not to determine which of the two responses is more accurate but rather to explain the impact of educating the public on the two perspectives.

Some advocates believe that highlighting the relationship between violence and mental illness may be a significant wake-up call for the public (2). D. J. Jaffe of the Treatment Advocacy Center suggests, "Laws change for a single reason, in reaction to highly publicized incidences of violence. People care about public safety. I am not saying it is right. I am saying this is the reality.... So if you're changing your laws in your state, you have to understand that" (3). Other advocates point to studies that show that stereotypes about the dangerousness of persons with mental illness are a key source of prejudice and discrimination against persons with mental illness by the public (4,5). These two positions lead to contradictory public education goals. In this study we examined the impact of two public education programs—one that aimed to combat the stigma of mental illness and one that highlighted the association between violence and psychiatric disorders—on participants' attitudes toward persons with mental illness and their resource allocation preferences for different types of mental health programs.

(Methods section omitted)

(Results section omitted)

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
 
Our findings consistently question the strategy of highlighting the association between untreated mental illness and violence, which has been touted by some community groups. Research participants who completed programs that educate the public on this association reported that persons with mental illness are more dangerous and should be feared. This finding seemed fairly obvious because of the nature of the education-about-violence program. Persons who completed the education-about-violence program also tended to endorse treatment programs that segregate persons with mental illness from the community and that promote coercive or mandated treatments. Perhaps most stigmatizing were the findings that participants who completed education-about-violence programs were more likely to withhold help from people with mental illness and avoid them socially.

Proponents of public education programs that focus on the association between violence and mental illness might respond to these findings by arguing that increasing negative attitudes about mental illness is a necessary evil when trying to get the public in general, and legislators in particular, to increase resources for mental health services. If this assertion is correct, we would have expected participants' assessments to indicate that more resources should be provided for mental health services after they participated in the education-about-violence program. However, findings from our study did not support this kind of conclusion. Posttest and follow-up measures did not find a significant endorsement of more resources for mandated treatments or rehabilitation services across any of the three groups. Interestingly, a nonsignificant trend seemed to yield findings that contradicted the education-about-violence perspective.

Of course, researchers should always be skeptical about conclusions that are based largely on null findings. Findings from our study did not clearly challenge the assertions that education-about-violence programs lead to a greater support for allocating funds for mental health programs. However, our evidence also did not support these assertions. Hence, community groups should not use information about the link between mental illness and violence in an attempt to improve resources for mental health programs.

Finally, findings from our study were somewhat limited in terms of generalizability because college students, who tend to be more educated than the general population, were recruited for our study. Additional research should include a more diverse sample.

(References omitted)

The authors are affiliated with the department of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, 7230 Arbor Drive, Tinley Park, Illinois 60477 (e-mail, p_corrigan@uchicago.edu).
- End of Excerpt -

For more information, contact Dr. Patrick Corrigan. E-mail p_corrigan@uchicago.edu

A footnote by Jean Arnold, Antistigma Home Page

The above article (in its Methods section, omitted here) contains a Treatment Advocacy Center statement attributing 1,000 homicides annually to individuals with untreated severe mental illnesses. Readers are referred to a recent TAC briefing paper citing three sources for the figure.

The National Stigma Clearinghouse has criticized TAC's tactics and the accuracy of its information many times. (See "Stigmatizing Fear Tactics" link on the Antistigma Home Page.)

Several years ago, I talked with authors of two of the research studies TAC cites to substantiate the "1,000" figure. Both cautioned that the data in their studies would not yield a reliable count of homicides by people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. A third study cited in the briefing paper is too fanciful to be of use.

Our objection to the TAC statement is not just a quibble over numbers. The damage is in the cumulative effect of the stigmatizing message, repeated until it sticks. We've lost count of the times the "1,000" has appeared on television news magazines like "60 Minutes" and opinion pieces written by TAC for major newspapers. Its purpose in every case, it seems obvious from their contexts, is to excite public fear.

Will the "1,000" continue to spread? Is there a way to control the damage?

We welcome your comments. Email stigmanet@webtv.net

May 9, 2004 - News of the Week

COURAGEOUS TEENAGER ENDS SILENCE, TEACHES PEERS
ARTICLE: Toronto Star, May 6, 2004
http://thestar.com (Copyright 2004)

Frank talk on mental illness
17-year-old discusses her battle with disease

Mood Disorder group wants openness on issue

DEBRA BLACK
STAFF REPORTER

North Toronto Collegiate Institute student Erin Hodgson has lived with the shame and secrecy of mental illness for most of her life.

But not so anymore. Hodgson, 17, has decided to stand up and be counted by talking about her battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

She did something many twice her age would be too fearful to do. Earlier this year she wrote a poignant and courageous account of her battle with those illnesses for her high school newspaper.

"For years and years I lived in silence," she said at a press conference yesterday at the headquarters of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

"Every waking moment was a struggle. I was 11 years old and I didn't want to live anymore. I asked my parents to have me put down."

But the pain eventually lifted. Now she has a great desire to live and to talk about her disease.

Speaking out was a freeing experience, she said. "The shame I carried was so strong. But since that day, I had this incredible sense of freedom.

"I want to live again. I want to live without the stigma and the secrets. You have to speak about the things hurting you. It can make a difference in the world. We have to talk about it (mental illness) and refuse to keep silent."

Hodgson's message is one the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario wants spread. Yesterday the organization launched a new public education campaign geared towards encouraging people to talk about mental illness.

"Today, the silence officially ends," said Karen Liberman, executive director of the group. "We will no longer be relegated to the dark recesses of society."

Mental illness is more commonplace than many people think, added Dr. Anthony Levitt, psychiatrist-in-chief at Sunnybrook and Women's College Hospital. According to a survey of 8,000 residents of Ontario conducted by Sunnybrook, 26 per cent of them have had an episode of clinical depression.

"Talk may be cheap," he said at the news conference. "But (in this case) silence is deadly."

Jacqueline Beaurivage shares his commitment to a more frank and open discussion of mental illness.

"We have to talk about the problem," said Beaurivage, a volunteer board member and a mother of a teenage son who tried to commit suicide 16 months ago. Mental illness is an "every day part of life,'' she says.

"I remember thinking I just want to talk to one parent who has been there, who got their child to the other side. ... Talk to someone who has been there but for heaven's sake ? talk," she said.

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Ron Ellis, who also has faced the despair of depression, shares the view it is time mental illness came out of the closet. "I went through some very dark years after my pro-career," he said.

"I found myself facing a new adversary that was even tougher than the Philadelphia Flyers."

But he didn't really seek help until he heard CBS 60 Minutes broadcaster Mike Wallace talk about his own battle with the disease. "Talking allows people to feel that they're not alone and they get the courage to do something."

If you want more information on depression or are worried about someone contact the Ontario Mood Disorders Association at 1-888-486-8236.
- End of Article -

April 25, 2004 - News of the Week

FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT PREJUDICE
Article: Copyright The New York Times 2004

April 20, 2004
Hard-Wired for Prejudice? Experts Examine Human Response to Outsiders
By NANCY WARTIK


It's only a short step from feeling angry to feeling angry at someone, especially if that person is of a different social group, sex or ethnicity.

At least that is what psychologists who are investigating the link between emotions and prejudice are finding.

In a study that measured how emotional states affected views of outsiders, the researchers, from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, found that anger increased the likelihood of a negative reaction to members of a different group and that sadness or a neutral emotion did not.

The study will appear in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Taken together with other research, the findings suggest that prejudice may have evolutionary roots, having developed as a quick, crude way for early humans to protect themselves from danger.

"The anger is serving as a signal that there's some level of threat or hostility in the environment," said Dr. David DeSteno, an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern University and an author of the study. "And if there's a threat in your environment, it's more likely to come from someone not in your social group than someone who is, because usually social group members reinforce each other. They protect each other from outsiders."

The new research on emotions and prejudice has been partly inspired by changing ideas about the nature of emotion itself. Social scientists once dismissed emotions as an illogical nuisance. But by the 1980's, researchers had begun to consider emotions useful in their own right.

"Emotions and the response tendencies that go with them help guide our reactions to the world," Dr. Galen V. Bodenhausen, director of the social psychology program at Northwestern University, said. "Rational thought is great in a lot of circumstances where you have time and latitude to do it. But emotions provide rapid, immediate guidance, a gut reaction."

In 1994, Dr. Bodenhausen conducted one of the first studies to show that moods could affect whether people invoked hurtful stereotypes. In it, the researchers gave 135 undergraduate psychology students a writing exercise that left them feeling sad, angry or neutral. Next, they had the students read fictional case histories and rate the likelihood that the people described in the stories were guilty of misconduct.

Some participants read about "Juan García," a student who had supposedly assaulted a classmate. Others read the same case, with the name changed to "John Garner."

Some students read about a student accused of cheating, while others read the same case history, with the student identified as a college athlete.

Angry students, the researchers found, were more likely to find Juan García guilty of assault than John Garner. They were also more likely to think that the athlete had cheated. The students who were neither angry nor sad tended not to rely on stereotypes in their judgments.

Students who felt sad were, if anything, biased in favor of the people linked with negative stereotypes.

"Angry situations often require rapid response," Dr. Bodenhausen said of the results. "It's not a good time to be pensive."

For better or worse, he noted, stereotyping, arising as it does from the mind's tendency to make sense out of the world by categorizing and simplifying, provides a basis for that rapid response.

Sadness, on the other hand, "isn't often associated with immediate threats," Dr. Bodenhausen said, but "with losses or other kinds of problems that being reflective and thoughtful might help you to solve."

Sad students, he said, may have been in a frame of mind that led them to evaluate the case histories more slowly and to reach more judicious conclusions.

In the new study, Dr. DeSteno and his colleagues tried to demonstrate that people are, at a very basic level, wired to distrust outsiders. In one part of the study, volunteers answered quiz questions like, "How many people ride the New York subway every day?" and were classified as overestimators or underestimators.

In fact, the quiz was a ruse, and the participants were randomly assigned to one group or the other. The researchers then induced angry, sad or neutral moods in the participants and had them take a computerized test.

In the test, positive words like love or negative words like death were flashed on a screen, followed by an image of someone identified as an underestimator or an overestimator. The subjects were asked to respond to each photograph by pressing a key labeled "us" or "them."

When the photos followed positive words, the researchers found, the angry subjects took significantly longer to identify members of the "them" group than they did when the photos followed negative words.

Response time on such tests is considered a good measure of automatic, unconscious thought patterns.

It may seem intuitively obvious that feeling angry can elicit hostility toward outsiders. But another study by Dr. Bodenhausen demonstrated that the responses of happy people were quite similar to those of angry people, that they were more likely to draw on negative stereotypes in judging guilt or innocence.

Dr. Bodenhausen speculated that this might be because the mind essentially strives to function as a fuel-efficient machine. "Happiness is associated with environments that are safe, where things are going well," he said. "When we feel happy, going with simple first reactions seems adequate for judging the world."

It also may ensure, he added, that "when the time comes to confront problems, we'll have the energy to do it."

In other instances, a biased reaction may provide a quick boost for the ego. In a study at the University of Michigan in 1997, the researchers looked at about 125 undergraduate pyschology students, with Jews and foreigners excluded, and found that those who had suffered blows to their self-esteem were more likely than those with high self-esteem to assign negative stereotypes to a woman in a video who wore a Star of David necklace and was identified as "Julie Goldberg."

The more negatively the subjects with low self-esteem rated Julie, the more their own self-esteem levels increased.

On the other hand, both groups of subjects gave positive evaluations to a woman identified as Maria D'Agostino who was wearing a cross.

"For most people, it is a constant task to try to feel good about themselves," said Dr. Steven Spencer, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and a co-author of the study. "It can take a lot of effort and work."

Thinking bad things about people in another group, Dr. Spencer said, makes people feel better about their own group, "which then makes them feel better about themselves."

Being more aware of the effects that emotions can have on attitudes, Dr. Bodenhausen said, can be helpful in daily life.

"People may be very reluctant to confront this about themselves, because it's so undesirable to be prejudiced," he said. "Confronting the possibility that these biases exist in us is a necessary part of the solution."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company (http://www.nytimes.com)

April 18, 2004 - News of the Week

A PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVOR NAMES BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Severe mental illness is a tiring challenge, every waking moment, every waking day. Do not dismiss this essay..."
Biggest challenge of mental illness is the stigmatization

By MAEL ANNE DINNELL
April 18, 2004


I belong to a community, a social class and a subculture that, by necessity, requires that I regularly be categorized for the purpose of treatment and concrete assistance.

This is a community whose members are familiar with constant challenges and frequent anguish. People die frequently in this community, from suicide, drug overdose and physiological complications, which are the side effects of very powerful medications — side effects like tumors, heart problems, kidney failure, poor liver function, toxicity, etc.

But for all these high prices, we in this community suffer most profoundly from stigmatization, derision, misunderstanding and discrimination that no other minority would allow to pass unchallenged. Paradoxically, the way we are included in society is by segregation, which we wearily (and necessarily) allow. We are the "mentally ill," the consumers in a system of a particular kind of care.

I feel urgency, in the light of attempts by the governor of California to minimize and even cap our services, to address the larger society about what life is like for us. Severe mental illness is a tiring challenge, every waking moment of every waking day. Do not dismiss this essay at this point out of an ignorant conviction that we are lazy, crazy or unsalvageable. You stand to learn something about your fellow human beings.

Segregating us allows for specific kinds of treatment the average citizen does not require, but it also engenders our dismissal. We are accused often of being dependent on the mental-health services that provide us with medication, living assistance, payees, programs, therapy and group support. But you would not judge a diabetic for being dependent on insulin, or the dependence of someone with kidney failure on dialysis. These things are matters of life and death to us, not only health and comfort. At some point we have been judged inappropriate enough often enough by society to warrant our assignment as members to this system, but at some point our functioning in it becomes relevant to the length and quality of our lives. There are many people in this society with fixed delusions or idiosyncrasies of thought and behavior that never get diverted into this system, and whose lives are not affected in terms of length or quality. The quality of our subjective experience (of ourselves and of the world) then becomes the most important aspect of being assigned to this system.

The typical image of a mental-health client is one of a client in crisis. That is when the public notices us, and that is when we come to the attention of the police. These acute episodes are the subject of ignorant jokes and the reason for unquestioned prejudices.

In actuality, most of the time we are not visibly distinguishable from you. But jokes and stereotypes at our expense occur regularly even in ultra-liberal Santa Cruz, and even in the alternative publications. Derisive references one would never dare to make toward blacks, for instance, or women, are commonplace and acceptable. Even now someone reading this is protesting that I am overly sensitive. I think not.

We joke about or own behavior sometimes. But there is really nothing funny at all about the experience of serious mental illness. Coping with it requires an outstanding level of strength, willingness, motivation and commitment. Most people could not survive it; in fact, many of us don't. I, personally, thank God every day for the new generation of "atypical" psychotropic drugs; they have freed me from the nightmare of cognitive confusion, misperception and emotional deadness that I lived with for almost half a century, whether acutely or in relative remission.

But I have paid a price for the use of the drug that changed everything for me: my body thermostat has been ruined and I suffer regularly from overheating and feverish states. This long-range effect was not known when I started on it. This is a typical example of the kind of trade-offs we are required to make in exchange for the blessing of being functional and feeling well.

In spite of infighting, we emphasize our segregation by the inclusion of only each other in our social lives. Why should we struggle valiantly to blend in with and facilitate the rest of the people in society? We accept each other as we are and meet each other where we are. We do not have to constantly explain ourselves or strive for some vaguely understood kind of appropriateness or redeem ourselves for the sin of being subjected to a condition we can manage but not cure or control. We can live, work and socialize within a group in which each individual is faced with the same dilemma.

It is trite and cliché to say, but the world itself is insane. World and local events are dominated by acts that are profoundly inappropriate — that is, inhumane — from genocide to child abuse and molestation to wars fought for the sake of territory and resources. It is almost amusing because the behaviors that find us relegated to the mental-health system (very early on in our lives) seldom involve violence against other human beings. As a group, we are no more violent than society at large; in fact, we are more likely to be victims of violence.

Sickness and health are determined mostly on the basis of peculiarity — not a moral standard, not a measure of our respect toward the rights of others. To "fit in" — somewhere — is the more and the mantra in this society. It does not pay to stand out. And neither is it easy to stand out. Thus, our sub-community is open to those who do not belong, and closed to those who do.

There is beginning to be movement in our community, as there has been for some time already in the ranks of the physically disabled, toward a kind of solidarity, political involvement and awareness that we represent an important voting bloc. My personal mission is to write and act toward the goal of not only establishing and maintaining concrete "patients' rights," but educating society at large about the image and the needs of the mentally ill — in all of their various circumstances, from life in the larger community to homelessness to institutions and facilities.

I know without a doubt there are people who have read this far saying, "This cannot be a person with real mental illness, she is too logical and articulate." And this is precisely the point I have endeavored to make. We are talented, we are verbal, we are interested in things; we struggle with a handicap the majority of people don't have, but you make a grave mistake to dismiss and outcast us.

In any case, we will be heard, and we are here.

Mael Anne Dinnell is a Santa Cruz resident.

April 11, 2004 - News of the Week

ADS CENTER OFFERING FREE ANTISTIGMA TRAINING
Source: Consumer Affairs E-News
http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/consumersurvivor
April 2, 2004  Vol. 04-39

The new federal ADS Center invites you to participate in a free training session, via telephone, on Training Educators to Eliminate Stigma and Discrimination in High Schools.
Date: Tuesday April 20th, 2004
Time: 4:00pm - 5:15pm (Eastern Time)
To join this teleconference, scroll down to REGISTER NOW!
While schools are primarily concerned with education, mental health is essential to learning as well as to social and emotional development.

Because of the important interplay between emotional health and school success, schools must be partners in the mental health care of our children. When untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure. Discussing mental health with all youth may result in greater acceptance and understanding of people with mental illnesses, less stigma attached to mental health problems, and lead to treatment for children and adolescents with mental health disorders.

The Speakers will be:
Powerful Youth Friends United
This North Carolina group is comprised of youth between the ages of 13 and 21; some group members deal personally with mental health issues, or are family members of people with mental illnesses. The group's goal is to provide support for youth.

Steve Adelsheim, M.D., Director, New Mexico School Mental Health Initiative
New Mexico's children face some of the highest rates of violence, substance abuse, suicide, and school failure in the United States. More than one third of students visiting school-based health centers in New Mexico have primary mental health needs.

Dr. Adelsheim is director of this initiative, which operates at least six different programs for students. In 2002, his organization trained 180 teachers and school health professionals from 14 school districts in New Mexico as part of its Behavioral Health Training Institute. http://www.nmsmhi.org/programs_sbti.html

The presentations will be approximately 45-minutes, to be followed by a 30-minute period of discussion between the participants and the presenters.

REGISTER NOW!
To register for this teleconference, please reply via e-mail to info@adscenter.org indicating that you want to participate.

Please keep the subject heading as it is here: ADS Center High School Teleconference.

All participants will receive confirmation by e-mail after responding to this invitation. Before the call, participants will receive an online link to presentation materials and log-in instructions for the call.

This session is sponsored by the Resource Center to Address Discrimination and Stigma (ADS Center), a project of the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Please pass this invitation on to others who might be interested. For more information, contact Jennifer Melinn at info@adscenter.org .

If you will be calling from outside the Continental United States, please let us know at www.adscenter.org. We will need to make special arrangements for your participation.

April 4, 2004 - News of the Week

POSITIVE VISIBILITY POSTING
AN ACTRESS BALANCES ART, ILLNESS AND A NEW HOME
/BY PENELOPE GREEN


Article from The New York Times
April 4, 2004 (Copyright New York Times)
HABITATS | HARLEM
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/04/realestate/04HABI.html subscription (free) needed

One sunny afternoon in late March, Wambui Bahati, a 54-year-old actress, inspirational speaker and dormant manic-depressive, sat cross-legged on her tomato red couch in her Habitat for Humanity condominium on West 134th Street and offered a hilarious aural snack, a few lines from her one-woman show. Called "Balancing Act," it is an unusual musical about mental illness, and it makes its creator seem a potent combination — part Nancy Wilson, part Joan Rivers.

The walls were purple, and Ms. Bahati was phosphorescent in a bright red tank top and bright red lipstick flecked with gold glitter. She extended first one elegant arm and then another, and sang a fragment of a jazzy show tune:

I didn't know what to wear
Waiting in line for welfare
If I wear my Anne Klein
I will surely be denied
If I take my Coach bag
They might think I'm trying to brag
If I wear my Ferragamo shoes
They won't believe I don't have food
How did it get to this?

How indeed? The byways Ms. Bahati has traveled as she careered off the mainstream, from a successful decade or so as an actress — she attended New York University's School of the Arts, toured with productions of "The Wiz," "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," married and had two daughters — into the disconnected, out-of-time bubble world of a woman with severe bipolar disorder are the subject of "Balancing Act."

Written in 1997, and performed initially on a 10-city tour for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-North Carolina, an advocacy group, the show effected Ms. Bahati's re-entry into the world she had drifted away from — and gave her the ticket to this bright two-bedroom home.

With its sponged purple walls, wicker furniture and batik fabric — "We were going for a beach-house effect," Ms. Bahati said — the apartment is a luminous setting for a happy woman. It's one of 10 units in a turn-of-the-century brick apartment house at Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and 134th Street, where Habitat for Humanity has five additional properties, bought for $1 apiece from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Ms. Bahati arrived after a series of coincidences. A Habitat member, having seen her perform in North Carolina, asked her to design a show about housing. Researching the group online, she came upon its application, filled it out on a lark and promptly forgot about it.

Habitat for Humanity asks that its applicants "be in overcrowded, substandard housing," said Lourdes Davila, director of the Family Partner Program, that they "pay over 50 percent of their income on rent — that's one in four families in New York City — and fall within 55 to 80 percent of the median income for Manhattan," or between about $25,000 to $40,000 for a family of two.

In March 2002, Ms. Bahati and her daughter, Julie Blondina, now 19, were living a few blocks away on 134th Street, renting a room from a relative. Ms. Blondina was (and is) studying to be a dancer and actress; Ms. Bahati was (and is) working on an armful of projects: a memoir, "You Don't Know Crazy"; a self-help book, "Loving Yourself Through the Madness"; and myriad speaking tours. When a family dropped out of a unit in the brick apartment house, the group called Ms. Bahati.

The building's renovation had long since been finished, so Ms. Blondina and Ms. Bahati donated their time — Habitat for Humanity now requires 300 hours of "sweat equity" per adult to qualify for a home and the group's 30-year, no-interest mortgages — to sites all over the city.

Sites are typically open Thursdays through Sundays, and construction work, like a Yankees game, can be shut down if it rains. Ms. Blondina, a gentle young woman with a dancer's bearing, threw herself into the work, surprising Ms. Bahati with her stamina. "She's a wonderful dancer," Ms. Bahati said, "but she is delicate and very ladylike. But she was ready. I was so proud." The two finished their hours in four months, a record for the organization, Ms. Davila said. "Wambui," she said, "is a dynamo."

Born John Anne Washington in Greensboro, N.C., Ms. Bahati grew up in a city roiled by the civil rights movement — in a marvelous moment of "Balancing Act," Ms. Bahati proclaims her intention to march with her sister and Jesse Jackson. "Mama" responds sternly: "Before you start marching all over town for freedom, you better march in that kitchen and free those dishes."

Despite episodes of depression and disconnection during and after college — "I was walking and talking," Ms. Bahati said, "so nobody knew when I wasn't `there´ " — she had a fruitful career.

By the late 1980's, Ms. Bahati was divorced from her husband and living with her two daughters, Marie, then 7, and Julie, 4, in New York City. "There were issues in the marriage, and then I was the issue," she said. Wretched periods were capped by hospital stays, and Ms. Bahati quickly went from well off to welfare, as she put it.

"I took the girls and moved to North Carolina," she said. "I told them: `We are going to be poor. We do not want to be poor in New York City.´ " Back in Greensboro, Ms. Bahati tried to work; her mother took care of the girls, "and the girls took care of me," she said. Before long, they were sent to live with their father in New Jersey.

Hospitalized after a suicide attempt, she spent the day after the attempt running the hospital: doing hair and makeup for the patients, teaching dance classes, counseling the counselors. Ms. Bahati earned a diagnosis then: manic depression, now called bipolar disorder.

"I hated my life," she said, "rotting in public housing, taking medications for my medications, and so I decide that I want to die. I've got the television on, 24/7, and in the background, getting on my very last nerve, is a Tony Robbins infomercial," she continued, sketching out the relentless pitch of the "personal power guru."

"The gall of him, I think, to take people's money and tell them he can fix their lives with some tapes — in four easy payments. I decide that before I go out, I'm going to prove this guy's a phony." But she soon changed her mind.

Ms. Bahati, who is an all or nothing sort of person, bought a set of tapes and began to listen. And a funny thing happened. "The main thing I heard from this guy," she said, "is this: `Whatever they say you have, that´s not who you are.´ "

Ms. Bahati started feeling different. "I told the doctors that I'd like to go off all those medications," she said, "and when they stopped laughing, they told me I'd lose my disability support if I did." As it turned out, it was a risk worth taking.

She started writing, too. A therapist, "my first African-American female therapist," Ms. Bahati said, suggested an outlet for "Balancing Act" — the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Her mother was horrified: "Imagine, I'm going to sing songs about my illness," Ms. Bahati said. "She didn't know what to think." Ms. Bahati emerged from her cocoon with a new Swahili name: Wambui, which means "singer of songs," and Bahati, which means "my fortune is good."

She now pays $530 a month for a $110,000 mortgage and the common charges for her condominium. The apartment is as spare as a Swedish furniture ad, except for Ms. Bahati's bedroom.

She has a list as long as her arm to work through: Design Web sites (she has her own, www.wambui.com). Write those books. Get the Abdominizer off the floor so she can reach the closet and hang up her clothes. Build shelving. And cap it with a loft bed.
Luckily, she has a full set of tools. "One thing I learned from Habitat," she said, "is that the reason women have problems with construction is they don't have the right tools. Tools are really important."  

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

March 28, 2004 - News of the Week

(1) GUN LAW IS OFF-TARGET
By Robert Bernstein, Executive Director
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Source: USATODAY.com
March 24, 2004
Editorial/Opinion
The capture of Charles McCoy Jr. in connection with the Ohio highway shootings has led many to ask how McCoy obtained the guns he is suspected of using. But focusing on McCoy's history of mental illness misses the larger point: Guns are dangerous and shouldn't be easy for anyone to obtain.

Firearms were used in nearly 11,000 murders in 2002, according to the FBI (news - web sites). Only a tiny fraction involved people with mental illnesses, who are far more likely than others to be victims of violent crimes.

Under federal law, individuals deemed "mentally defective" or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution may not purchase or possess a gun. This includes people judged to have difficulty managing their affairs due to mental illness.

Such broad, stigmatizing definitions promote the idea that violence and mental illness are inextricably linked - but research shows that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than others.

Statistically, inmates in state and federal prisons for gun-related crimes are more likely to be young, black or male than to have been treated for a mental illness. Yet a blanket gun-control policy targeting men or young men or men of a particular race rightly would be considered reprehensible, as should policies that arbitrarily single out non-violent people with mental illnesses.

Encouraging the sharing of mental-health records with the national instant-background-check system would do little to prevent gun violence and could lead to more discrimination against those with mental illness. Without strong protections, such information could be shared, creating new avenues for discrimination unrelated to gun use - in housing, credit or employment.

Since names on the checklist are not automatically purged, individuals could remain on the list as "mentally defective" forever. A 35-year-old woman committed for depression once in 1990 would remain in the database for life. Ironically, early reports indicate that McCoy would not have been included since he voluntarily sought treatment.

Public safety must be protected, but arbitrary discrimination is a poor way to do so. Efforts to prevent gun violence must reject baseless stereotypes and protect the privacy of millions of non-violent Americans.

Robert Bernstein is executive director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy group for the rights of people with mental disabilities.

For op-ed, click http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2004-03-23-oppose_x.htm

Copyright © 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
_____________________
(2) RISE IN STRANGER HOMICIDES NOT LINKED TO MENTAL ILLNESS
Source: British Medical Journal   
Released: Wed 24-Mar-2004, 07:00 ET
 

BMJ 27 March 2004 edition
Mental illness in people who kill strangers: longitudinal study and national clinical survey BMJ Volume 328, pp 734-6


Stranger homicides have increased, but this is not the result of homicides committed by mentally ill people and the "care in the community" policy, finds a study in this week's BMJ. Instead, stranger homicides are more likely to be related to alcohol or drug misuse.

Researchers identified people convicted of homicide in England and Wales between 1996 and 1999 and recorded whether the victim was known to the perpetrator.

Stranger homicides increased substantially since 1967. However, contrary to popular fears, perpetrators of stranger homicides were less likely to have a mental illness or to have been under mental health care than perpetrators of homicides in general. Instead, stranger homicides were most likely to be committed by young men with a history of alcohol or drug misuse.

These findings suggest that stranger homicide is more often associated with alcohol and drug misuse than with severe mental illness, say the authors. This is also true of non-stranger homicides.

Failings in mental health care have contributed to individual cases, and steps should be taken to prevent this.

However, stranger homicides are more often committed by young men under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and a public health approach to homicide prevention should place greater emphasis on reducing alcohol and drug misuse in this group, they conclude.

Click here to view paper: http://press.psprings.co.uk/bmj/march/ppr734.pdf
© 2004 Newswise.  All Rights Reserved.
__________________

March 21, 2004 - News of the Week

ARTICLE ILLUSTRATES CONFUSION SURROUNDING PROPOSED GUNLAW AMENDMENT

The article below, which appeared on the website of WTHR, Indianapolis, tries to connect 24 possibly-linked shootings in Ohio and a proposed federal gunlaw amendment, the NICS Improvement Act. (NICS: National Instant Criminal-background Check System).

In fact, the connection is valid only if the records of the arrested suspect, Charles McCoy, Jr., show he was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution or judged mentally deficient by a court. This has not been established.

The feature should have made clear that the NICS checklist of people prohibited from buying guns, in quasi-operation since 1998, lacks the records of tens of millions of convicted criminal offenders. Instead, the article focuses on a small number of people with psychiatric disabilities whose only "crime" is commitment to a psychiatric institution for any number of reasons. The article's skewed picture maligns a group of citizens who are as law-abiding as any other.

The use of mental illnesses to promote the gunlaw amendment (click for example) was initiated in early 2002 by its sponsors, Senator Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy. It appears that this prejudiced approach continues to generate publicity.

The NICS amendment awaits action by Congress.

FEATURE:
Source: Eyewitness News
WTHR Indianapolis
(copyright WorldNow and WTHR, 2004)

Walker/Washington Bureau Chief
History of Mental Illness Doesn't Prevent Gun Sale


Washington D.C., March 19 - Under federal law it's illegal for someone to buy a gun who has been institutionalized involuntarily or found mentally deficient by a court.

But like most states, Indiana has no way to enter that kind of information into the federal system for instant background checks.

Gun control advocates, like David Mitchel with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, have long considered that a major loophole. "You know the Hinckleys of the world shouldn't be allowed to walk in and buy a gun, c'mon, that's common sensical."

In Ohio Charles McCoy appears to have bought a gun perfectly legally, despite a history of paranoid schizophrenia.

Indiana State Police say they face a big roadblock getting information of the kind that might prevent such gun sales.

Some say the instant checks now used make it all the more difficult.

Jeff Modisett is a former Indiana Attorney General. "We're still not at the point where the technology is such that you really can get instantaneous and comprehensive records, whether or not someone has a criminal record, let alone a mental health problem."

But advocates for the mentally ill say access to those records would do more to invade privacy than stop gun crime.

"In terms of violence and mental illness," Michael Faenze with the National Mental Health Association says, "studies have shown that there's very little correlation between violent acts and having a psychological disorder."

McCoy's arrest may become another case study in an issue that was already a hot one on Capitol Hill, how well background checks designed to keep guns out of the hands of potentially violent offenders are working.

A proposal in Congress would provide states with $375 million to help states improve their record-keeping on prohibited gun buyers, including the mentally ill.

All content © Copyright 2002 - 2004 WorldNow and WTHR. All Rights Reserved.
End of Article


Note from the National Stigma Clearinghouse:

It should be made clear: It is the missing records of 38 million convicted offenders -- found guilty of felonies, drug abuse, and domestic violence -- that jeopardize the operation of the NICS checklist. Minuscule by comparison, an estimated 2.7 million records are missing for people who have been involuntarily committed or adjudicated mentally deficient. These individuals have not committed crimes.

We noted several incorrect statements:

  • "...the Hinckleys of the world shouldn't be able to walk in and buy a gun..."

    The John Hinckley case is a false example. Hinckley's problems, prior to his crime, would not have put his name on the NICS checklist (had there been one in 1981), and his purchase would have been approved.

    It is misleading to suggest that the NICS list would stop assailants like John Hinckley, Colin Ferguson (who killed Carolyn McCarthy's husband in a shooting rampage), possibly Charles McCoy, and other highly-publicized assailants who gave no outward signs of extreme behavior prior to their crimes.


  • "...Charles McCoy appears to have bought a gun perfectly legally, despite a history of paranoid schizophrenia."

    Information about the sources of McCoy's guns has not been released to our knowledge.

  • "...despite a history of paranoid schizophrenia."

    This is a serious error. The article wrongly assumes that a psychiatric diagnosis alone puts a person's name on the NICS criminal checklist. It also assumes that a psychiatric diagnosis is a predictor of violence - the worst of all stigmatizing misconceptions about mental illnesses.

  • "McCoy's arrest may become another case study...in a hot issue on Capitol Hill, how well background checks designed to keep guns out of the hands of potentially violent offenders are working."

    Again, as of this writing we have not seen evidence that Mr. McCoy belongs on the NICS database.

    One can admire the purpose of the NICS Improvement Act -- to keep guns out of violent hands -- but deplore its casting a wide net over millions of innocent people.
    RELATED READING
    Click here for Background Webpage: 12 items (with links) concerning the gunlaw amendment and publicity it has generated.

    For proposed bill, Click here, then enter NICS Improvement Act or S.1706

    For gun policies, trends, laws, go to Firearms Law Center
  • March 14, 2004 - News of the Week

    THE MISSING MEMORIAL

    Billions of dollars have gone to groups and individuals around the world who suffered grievous damage from Nazi persecution in the 1930's and '40's. A New York Times article, "Deciding Which Wrongs to Right" (3/13/04), describes the difficult process of assigning the remaining funds. Seventy applicants with proposals totalling $2 billion are competing for the last $400 million, according to estimates.

    The compelling proposals include plans to erect memorials and monuments in recognition of suffering, provide food and health care for impoverished survivors, compensate slave laborers, repay survivors and heirs for confiscated bank accounts, and help needy non-Jews who saved the lives of Jews. Among the social services agencies and international coalitions vying for the dwindling funds are smaller groups, such as Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, gays, disabled people, and others.

    We combed the article hoping to find a reference to the earliest victims of Nazi extermination. As early as 1935, people in mental institutions were used as guinea pigs to test the killing efficiency of gas chambers. At least 70,000 people with psychiatric disabilities died while providing expertise for the extermination program that later killed millions of people deemed unworthy of life by the Nazis.

    "Gone and forgotten" best describes the earliest victims of the Holocaust.

    March 7, 2004 - News of the Week

    (1) YATES TRAGEDY BRINGS REFORM AND EDUCATION

    (2) WHISTLE-BLOWER EXPOSES FALSE TESTIMONY IN YATES CASE


    It has been nearly three years since national attention was riveted on the unthinkable drowning of five young children in Houston, Texas, by their seemingly loving mother. The inexplicable slayings propelled a rarely talked-about subject, portpartum psychosis, to the center of national discussion.

    In Texas, shock and soul-searching has been replaced by determination to prevent another such tragedy, described by Yates' defense lawyers as "absolutely so preventable."

    George Parnham, a key defense lawyer, told a reporter for the Dallas Morning News (November 22, 2003) "When you analyze it from top to bottom, you realize it didn't have to happen."

    Reform is under way across the state. Mental health advocates, doctors, and lawyers have formed an alliance and created a memorial fund to raise awareness of serious emotional problems that can follow childbirth. Texas has passed a law requiring hospitals and doctors to let new parents know where they can get help. The Texas Medical Association is encouraging obstetricians and gynecologists to talk more about postpartum complications with patients.

    A memorial fund was created in 2002 by the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Greater Houston to educate women and their families about postpartum depression and similar mental illnesses. The group, joined by other statewide organizations, created a brochure in English and Spanish, "Your Emotions After Delivery." The goal is for every new mom in the Houston area to have this brochure in her hand when she leaves the hospital, said Betsy Schwartz, the MHA's executive director.

    Click here for source article:
    "Yates Inspires Reform: Doctors, mental health workers aim to prevent postpartum tragedies," by Anne Belli Gesalman, 11/22/03, reporter for Dallas Morning News.


    (2) DID ERROR BY KEY EXPERT SWAY JURY?

    Book Probes New Aspects of Case

    As the Yates trial neared its end in March of 2002, the possibility of a death sentence dominated the news. A Houston Chronicle headline, 3/5/02, captured the tone: "Yates' Fate Hinges on Which Psychiatrist Can Sway Jury."

    One attempt to sway the jury was surely unethical. Dr. Park Deitz, the prosecution's key expert witness, linked Yates' motivation to a televised segment of "Law and Order" in which, Dr. Deitz said, a mother drowned her children and was acquitted on an insanity defense.

    But Dr. Deitz was mistaken. There was no such episode on "Law and Order.

    By happenstance, Deitz's error was caught by Suzanne O'Malley, a journalist and former scriptwriter for "Law and Order."

    The defense team promptly argued for a mistrial since the jury had received false evidence of Yates' possible premeditation. Although a mistrial was denied and the jury did not hear about Deitz's mistake, its discovery prevented execution.

    For more, read "Are You There Alone? The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates," by Suzanne O'Malley.

    Click here for source article:
    "Author Delves into the Dark Mind of a Murderous Texas Mother," by Susan Campbell, Hartford Courant, 1/28/04

    March 2, 2004 - News of the Week

    CANADIANS BATTLE BIASED LANGUAGE WITH CASH

    ARTICLE
    The Halifax Herald Limited, Tuesday, March 2, 2004

    Article sidebar: A sample of terms the Health Department and the Canadian Mental Health Association consider outdated, negative or inappropriate:
    - Demented, madman, maniac, nutter, schizo, a nervous breakdown, cracked up, crazy lunatics, he went insane, lose their marbles, madness, lunatic asylum, mental hospital, nutcase, something wrong in the head, raving lunatics, a fruitcake, a psycho, kooky, you're off your head.

    SURVEY ASSESSES MEDIA HANDLING OF MENTAL HEALTH
    Province sets up unique lottery to monitor journalists' attitudes
    By DAVID JACKSON / Provincial Reporter


    The Health Department is offering cash prizes to people to judge how the media treats mental health issues.

    The department and the Canadian Mental Health Association have drafted nine-point checklists for people to use when reading, watching or listening to the news.

    There are two checklists - one for mental illness and the other for suicide. People scrutinize a news story for things like inappropriate language and negative stereotypes, submit the checklist to the mental health association's Nova Scotia branch and have their names entered in a draw.

    Total prize money is $4,000. Both categories have first-prize draws of $1,000 and two second-place draws of $500.

    Carol Tooton, executive director of the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the project is a way of gauging whether the media contributes to stigmatizing people with mental illness.

    She said the cash is an incentive for people to participate. "People are pretty lethargic and may complain but perhaps don't act on it," she said Monday.

    The project started Monday and will run for six months. Prize draws will be held Oct. 18. The Health Department will pay for the project, estimated to cost about $8,000, including prizes.

    Ms. Tooton said the department's anti-stigma/discrimination working group will likely talk to media outlets about mental health coverage at the end of the six-month project, whatever information it receives.

    Ms. Tooton said the checklists are available at all mental health clinics and service providers and on the Health Department website.

    She said the emphasis is on stories by Nova Scotia media, "where we might be able to follow up with some positive reinforcement."

    Ms. Tooton said she can recall only a few complaints to her office about the media, and as far as she knew, no one had then contacted the media outlets in question.

    Health Department spokeswoman Donn Chislett said the project isn't scientific. She said she expects most respondents will have a knowledge of mental illness and know whether words are used inappropriately.

    For example, the mental health checklist asks whether medical terminology like "psychotic" is used inaccurately or out of context, and both checklists ask about the use of inappropriate language.

    Ms. Tooton said the scrutiny isn't limited to stories about mental health. She said she has seen mental health terms used inappropriately in other stories, such as describing a city as schizophrenic.

    Health critics from the opposition parties said it's important to talk about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness but questioned whether cash prizes are necessary.

    Liberal Dave Wilson said mental health experts could monitor the media themselves and even approach media associations about how to handle mental health stories.

    "It just seems really strange to me," Mr. Wilson said.

    NDP critic Maureen MacDonald said the issue of the stigma around mental illness is complex, and she's not sure the project will expose that.

    "It's kind of an odd way to approach what is a very serious subject," she said.

    "I don't know that I feel entirely comfortable that the public need to be bribed with prizes to get thinking about this problem."

    February 8, 2004 - News of the Week

    UNITED NATIONS WORKING GROUP PRODUCES TREATY TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

    At the request of the UN General Assembly, a working group of individuals representing organizations worldwide has drafted a Convention to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of people with disabilities.

    Last week, Tina Minkowitz of Staten Island NY, a member of the Working Group who represents the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, furnished copies of the just-completed DRAFT. "It was a huge victory that we got disabled people's organizations represented so strongly on the working group, which was a mix of governments and non-governmental organizations," she said.

    Click here for a copy of the proposed "Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities"

    What's next? Find out what needs to be done between now and May. E-mail tminkowitz@earthlink.net.

    Tina Minkowitz writes:
    We succeeded in getting our proposed language into the draft text of a convention on the rights of people with disabilities, especially in the areas of recognition as a person before the law (legal capacity), torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (prohibiting forced treatment), and liberty and security of the person (prohibiting detention on the basis of disability).

    This was almost like a dream come true, and while governments added footnotes to the text saying that they disagree and it will have to be negotiated in the Ad Hoc Committee, the fact that it is in the text is a huge victory.

    Now we get to the next serious phase of work, which is getting governments to back our positions. There are already three or four government delegations on the Working Group which have voiced their support for what we are doing. ...

    There is a good opportunity for advocacy between now and May, when the Ad Hoc Committee will meet to start negotiations on the text. We need advocacy everywhere, in all countries. ...

    Please contact me if you have any questions about how to start doing advocacy or want more information or materials to use. I would also appreciate hearing about your efforts, so I can follow up with your country's delegates at the Ad Hoc Committee.
    Tina Minkowitz, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Representative on the Working Group, tminkowitz@earthlink.net

    February 1, 2004 - News of the Week

    OBITUARY OF JANET FRAME SHATTERS STEREOTYPE

    Countless Humanizing Stories Molder in Institution Attics and Cemeteries


    Obituary in New York Times, Friday, January 30, 2004

    Janet Frame, 79, Writer Who Explored Madness, Dies
    By DOUGLAS MARTIN


    Janet Frame, whose vividly romantic explorations of madness and language in novels, poetry and autobiography propelled her to worldwide attention, died yesterday in Dunedin, New Zealand. She was 79.

    Dunedin Hospital said the cause was acute leukemia, The Associated Press reported.

    In 1973 she legally changed her surname to Clutha, after the river south of Oamaru, her childhood home, but continued to write under the name Janet Frame.

    Ms. Frame's work used her own disturbing life to weave fictional nightmares that reflected, in her words, the "homelessness of self." After a suicide attempt she spent eight years in mental hospitals in New Zealand, receiving 200 electroshock treatments. She was about to have a lobotomy when a hospital official read that she had won a literary prize. She was released.

    Later, a panel of psychiatrists determined that she had never had schizophrenia. In the sort of bitterly perceptive, highly personalized twist that infuses much of her writing, that news did not please her.

    "Oh why had they robbed me of my schizophrenia, which had been the answer to all my misgivings about myself?" she wrote in the third volume of her autobiography, which, with the first two, was dramatized in Jane Campion's 1990 film "An Angel at My Table."

    "Like King Lear I had gone in search of `the
    truth´ and now I had nothing," she continued.

    Ms. Frame's 12 novels, four story collections, one poetry collection and three volumes of autobiography won dozens of awards.

    "As the body of her work has enlarged, one comes to understand it not just as a series of extraordinary insights into suffering and thought, but as a mighty exploration of human consciousness and its context in the natural world," the American Academy of Arts and Letters citation read when she was made an honorary foreign member in 1986.

    In her novel "The Edge of the Alphabet" (Braziller, 1965) words literally crumble into meaninglessness and communication becomes useless. Even spelling becomes sinister. In "Intensive Care" (Braziller, 1970) she spells history hiss-tree to make an unsettling connection to Eden's serpent. "All dreams," she wrote, "lead back to the nightmare garden."

    Ms. Frame created romantic visionaries — eccentrics, mad people, epileptics — and pitted them against the repressive forces of a sterile, conformist society. Or maybe she was just reporting on her life. A continuing discussion among critics was whether her autobiographical work was mostly fiction or whether her fiction was mostly autobiographical.

    Janet Paterson Frame was born on Aug. 28, 1924, in Dunedin. Her father was a railroad engineer. Her mother, who once worked as a maid in the home of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, wrote poems that she sold door to door.

    Janet's youth was blighted by the drownings of two sisters. She attended the local teachers' training college, where she felt so lonely that she found peace sitting among tombstones in a cemetery. While practice teaching, she panicked when an inspector entered the classroom, and she fled, never to return. She suffered a breakdown that was misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.

    After her eight years in two psychiatric hospitals, she was befriended on her release by Frank Sargeson, a writer, who let her stay in an army hut in his backyard in Auckland, New Zealand. She wrote her first novel, "Owls Do Cry" (Pegasus, 1957), while staying there. The narrator was Daphne, a patient in a mental hospital.

    She next traveled abroad on a grant from the New Zealand government, and in London a panel of psychiatrists determined she was not mentally ill, just different from other people. While living in Europe she published five novels from 1961 to 1963.

    Ms. Frame is survived by her sister, June Gordon.

    She returned to New Zealand in 1964 and wrote more novels, and three volumes of autobiography (Braziller, 1982, 1984, 1985). Despite the deep introspection of her writing, she developed a reputation as a private person.

    In the early 1990's she had two mild strokes, which affected her mental stamina and power of concentration, but she continued to write.

    "Writing is a boon, analgesic, and so on," she said. "I think it's all that matters to me. I dread emerging from it each day."
    RELATED READING
    (Thanks to NYAPRS for the Village Voice article below)

    "Suitcases from an insane asylum tell of lives long lost: What They Left Behind" 

    by JENNIFER GONNERMAN  
    Village Voice,  January 28 - February 3, 2004

     
    Craig Williams, a curator at the New York State Museum, drove four hours to visit Willard Psychiatric Center in the spring of 1995. The complex, located 65 miles southwest of Syracuse, was about to shut down after more than 100 years. Williams figured he would be able to pick up some artifacts, "maybe some antique furniture or a few nurses' uniforms. A staffer suggested he check out the attic of an abandoned building, and that's when he found 400 suitcases covered by decades of dust and pigeon droppings.
     
    These suitcases bore the names of former patients. Inside were their long-forgotten possessions: snapshots, diaries, postcards, books, letters, news clippings. For Williams, finding these suitcases was the equivalent of stumbling upon a buried chest of gold.

    "You'd open these suitcases, and you could so clearly sense and feel a personality and a humanity," he recalls. He didn't know it at the time, but these dusty trunks would change the course of his life, sparking a mission that would stretch on for the next nine yearsâ€"first to uncover the stories of the suitcases' owners, and then to present them to the public.
     
    The results are now on display at the New York State Museum in a riveting new exhibition, "Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic." The show features the suitcases and possessions of 12 former Willard patients, including the four individuals whose photos and stories appear on these pages. All 12 of these former patients have died. No family members or friends have yet stepped forward to claim their belongings.
     
    Today Willard is a prison for drug-abusing parolees, but originally it was New York's insane asylum for people who had been deemed incurable. More than 50,000 men and women passed through Willard during its years of operation, from 1869 to 1995. Many were locked up there for decades, never returning home again. Some were subjected to electroshock therapy. Others endured hydrotherapy, which involved being submerged in a tub filled with cold water for hours on end. A few had scars on their foreheads, the result of a lobotomy conducted elsewhere.
     
    Patients left behind their suitcases when they died or were sent to another facility. As a result, it took many years of detective work to put together this exhibition. In 1998, Williams teamed up with two people who then worked at the state Office of Mental Health: psychiatrist Peter Stastny and Darby Penney, former director of recipient affairs. They obtained permission to review the case files of former Willard patients, and then set about trying to piece together the stories of their lives.
     
    For the three curators, this project soon became an all-consuming endeavor. They sifted through thousands of pages of patient records and also 4,000 archival photos. Stastny recruited Lisa Rinzler, an accomplished cinematographer, and they traveled around the state together, documenting the homes where these people lived before entering the mental health system. Williams made frequent trips to Willard, driving 200 miles each way, to collect more artifacts.
     
    Lavishing so much attention on people who were largely forgotten during their lifetimes was, of course, part of the point. With the help of the curators, the exhibit's subjects have accomplished something they could never achieve while they were alive. "They've managed to move from being hidden in the crevices of an institution to being in a room of their own," says Stastny, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. "It's a huge accomplishment in a certain way. Now they can talk to us and show us who they are."
     
    Since the exhibit opened on January 17, the power of these individuals' tales has become apparent. Reading their stories on the walls and peering at their possessions, it is hard not to identify with the former patients. On a recent afternoon, two women studied the exhibit's section devoted to Frank C., a World War II veteran, who was brought to a police station in 1945 after passersby complained he'd kicked a garbage can. He was sent to Kings County Hospital, then to Brooklyn State Hospital, then to Willard.
     
    "I'm in another world right now," said visitor Mary Ann Barbolt, 45, as she read Frank's story and glanced at his army uniform enclosed in a glass case. "This is like a whole other part of humanity that's very disturbing. I can't believe people were institutionalized for having a temper tantrum. It's unsettling to think that because of their lack of knowledge in the field of psychiatric disabilities, they locked these people up for the rest of their lives."
     
    "It's just totally depressing," added her friend, 46-year-old Colleen Roche. "It's gut-wrenching for me to see these atrocities that happened."
     
    "It makes me feel very guarded and suspicious," Mary Ann said. "It makes me feel very vulnerable."
     
    "My stomach is in knots right now," Colleen said.
     
    Provoking such a visceral response appears to be one of the curators' intentions. "For a lot of these people who are featured in the exhibition, I feel like they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Penney says. "A lot of people identify with the arbitrary nature of how people got swept up in the mental health system. I've heard a lot of comments where people were saying, 'Geez, that could've happened to me.' I think that's the major point: that they're human beings too, and they're not so different from you.
     
    "In our society, peopleâ€"if they think about mental patients at allâ€"they think of them as nameless, faceless, perhaps dangerous people. They don't usually get the opportunity to learn who they are, in all their richness and complexity. But I think, for at least the 12 people whose materials are in the exhibition, that people will get a clearer understanding of who they were as people before they went into the hospital, and what kind of lives that hospitalization interrupted, or actually ended."
     
    "Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic" will be on display at the New York State Museum in Albany until September 19. For more information, visit nysm.nysed.gov. The biographies of former Willard patients included here are adapted from materials featured in the exhibit.
    -------------------------------------------------------
     
    MADELINE C.
    1896-1986
    Prior residence: Manhattan
    Years at Willard: 47

     
    Madeline was born in France, graduated from the Sorbonne, and taught French literature in various parts of the U.S., including Boston, Dallas, and New York. During the Depression, she was unemployed and sought help from the Emergency Work Bureau. She was sent to the New York Psychiatric Institute in upper Manhattan, and after claiming that she could read minds, was shipped off to three more hospitals. "I want to get out of here immediately," Madeline said when she arrived at Central Islip Hospital. "I think it's an outrage I have been brought here."
     
    In 1939, she arrived at Willard. More than three decades later, she was still trying to regain her freedom. "I don't like this hospital," she said, according to a note in her records. "I resent being detained and wasting my time." The items found in her suitcase hint at what her life was like before she was locked up, and what she might have been doing with her time had she been released. Her trunk contained a pink silk dress, a pair of long white gloves, a stack of sheet music, a copy of Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, and a bulletin listing philosophy and psychology courses at Columbia University.
     
    In 1971, Willard staffers decided not to set Madeline free because of her "continual fidgety movements, rigid stances, and facial grimaces." At the time, they did not know that these were the side effects of the psychiatric medications they had prescribed for her. She was sent to "attitude therapy" to get her to stop grimacing. By the time she finally got out of Willard, she was 79 years old. She was moved to a private facility and died 11 years later.
    --------------------------------------------------------
     
    FRANK C.
    1910-1984
    Prior residence: Brooklyn
    Years at Willard: 3

     
    An incident at a restaurant in the summer of 1945 changed the course of Frank C.'s life forever, propelling him into the mental health system. After he was served a broken plate, he got mad and began kicking garbage cans outside. The police picked him up, and he was taken to Kings County Hospital. "I am not sick," Frank told a staffer. "I got excited on Fulton Street and I was throwing garbage. My blood temper. It went up. I was angry. In the Virginia Restaurant I got a broken plate. I did not understand the broken plate. I thought that someone planned to kill me."
     
    Frank was diagnosed with "dementia praecox," an old term for schizophrenia. He was sent to Brooklyn State Hospital, and then to Willard. Although he had previously been a chauffeur, a soldier, and an amateur boxer, from 1945 on he was a full-time patient. After three years at Willard, he was sent to a V.A. hospital. He never returned to the streets again, and died in a psychiatric institution at age 74. The possessions he left behind in a suitcase at Willard include hismilitary photo, a tiny U.S. flag, a soldier's handbook, and a perfectly pressed army uniform.
    -------------------------------------------------------
     
    DMYTRE Z.
    1916-2000
    Prior residence: Syracuse
    Years at Willard: 24

     
    Dmytre, a native of Ukraine, was captured by the Nazis and sent to a work camp during World War II. In 1949, he moved to New York State with his wife, Sophia, and they joined Syracuse's sizable Ukrainian community. To express his appreciation for the chance to live in the U.S., he created a wooden replica of a church in his hometown, then brought it to Washington, D.C., to give to President Harry Truman.
     
    Not long afterward, Sophia died during a miscarriage. Dmytre's mental health quickly deteriorated, and he began to complain about feeling persecuted. He became convinced that he was engaged to Margaret Truman, the president's daughter, and he went to Washington, D.C., to see her in 1952. The Secret Service nabbed him, and that's when he entered the mental health system. He passed through two hospitals before arriving at Willard in 1953.
     
    In 1977, he was released and sent to a county home. His suitcase remained at Willard, filled with souvenirs from his trips to Washington, D.C.: postcards, photos, a replica of the Washington monument. When his suitcase was discovered, Dmytre was still alive. He had been moved from the county home to another adult home. Despite many efforts to track him down, the exhibition's curators did not learn exactly where he was until two years after his death.
    -------------------------------------------------------
     
    LAWRENCE M.
    1878-1968
    Prior residence: Manhattan
    Years at Willard: 50

     
    Lawrence might never have ended up at Willard had he not taken a job as a window washer at Bellevue Hospital. He lived there in a workers' dormitory, and in 1916 he was committed to this same hospital because, according to his records, he had been heard "singing, shouting, also praying, claiming to hear the voice of God and seeing the angels, then accusing himself of having sinned too much." He may have been drunk, according to his chart, but nevertheless he was transferred to a state hospital and was sent to Willard in 1918.
     
    Lawrence had been born in Austria and had come to Ellis Island 11 years earlier. He became the gravedigger at Willard's cemetery in 1937, when he was nearly 60 years old. He dug more than 600 graves for his fellow patients over the next 14 years, and continued to work as Willard's gravedigger until his own death at age 90. He, too, was buried in Willard's cemetery, where the deceased did not have headstones, but instead were given cast-iron markers with numbers. Eventually, these markers were removed in order to make it easier to mow the cemetery.
     
    When Lawrence's trunk was discovered, it contained very few possessions, "just a few shaving brushes, ties, suspenders, and well-worn leather shoes.
     
    Source: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0404/gonnerman.php

    This 'Mental Health E-News' posting is a service of the New York Ass'n of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). To join our list, e-mail us your request and, where appropriate, the name of your organization to NYAPRSadm@aol.com

    January 11, 2004 - News of the Week


    (1) WHERE "SPECIAL HOUSING" MEANS CRUEL AND HARMFUL PUNISHMENT

    New York Advocates Decry Prison Lockdowns

    New York's prisoners with psychiatric disabilities pay dearly for the prison system's inability to understand them or cope with their problems: a mental illness and, often, substance abuse and homelessness.

    New York State currently allows prisons to confine prisoners in solitary 23-24 hour "special housing units" (SHU's), also called "the box," at a rate four times the national average, according to Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (MHASC), a New York coalition of organizations and indivduals.

    Not only is New York's solitary confinement rate high compared to other states, but an estimated 25% to 50% of the punishing lockdowns are people with psychiatric disabilities.

    Sensory deprivation, social isolation and extreme idleness are often devastating to people with psychiatric disabilities, says MHASC. Prisoners often wind up in the "box" for minor disciplinary infractions linked to the person's psychiatric symptoms. Once put in a solitary cell there is no limit to the length of time spent there.

    Legislative findings in 2001 stated that 80% of SHU prisoners had spent more than 6 months in the "box" and about 50% had been confined for more than five years. The 2001 findings stated that "prisoners are being placed in SHU for increasingly minor offenses."

    Proposed legislation would make lockdowns illegal for people with psychiatric disabiities and create alternative housing units. Such a law has so far been a low priority for most legislators.

    Source: MHASC News Advisory

    Note: MHASC will hold a rally on Tuesday, January 13, on the Capitol Steps, Albany. Contact: Heather Barr, Urban Justice Center 646-602-5671 or Harvey Rosenthal, NYAPRS 518-436-0008
    __________________________________

    (2) MARS CANDY COMPANY and LUCASWORLD.COM PROMOTE PREJUDICE

    MARS, INC., the giant candy and snacks conglomerate, has joined with LucasWorld.com to attract pre-teens to their candy and entertainment products.

    The campaign theme is "GO LOCO." Please check it out at http://www.lucasworld.com Also see a full-page ad in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated for kids.

    MARS "crazy" candy products are featured, and Lucas uses the LOCO theme in a group of Internet games, desktop designs ("make your screen insane"), an International LOCO handshake, and more.

    Some may consider the campaign relatively harmless. The questions to ask: Does it demean? Does it respect difference?

    In our letter to Mars' Marketing Department, the National Stigma Clearinghouse called the campaign a textbook example of how to teach prejudice to young children.

    On its website (http://www.mars.com), the MARS Company stresses commitment to respect for the individual, ethical practices and "high standards of corporate responsibility, honesty and candor, and cultural diversity." It would seem they are totally unaware of their tasteless gaffe and will be quick to correct it.

    Contact information is below. Executives' names at MARS INC. are not available to the public:
  • MARS, INC.
    6885 Elm Street
    McLean, VA 22101
    Tel: 703-821-4900

  • Mars Inc. Marketing Department
    Master Foods, USA
    800 High Street
    Hackettstown, NJ 07840
    Tel: 908-852-1000
    Fax: 908-850-2734

  • LucasWorld.com has its offices (Spanish-speaking) in Mexico.
    To call from the U.S.: 01152- 818-625-1000
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