Prepared by: National Stigma Clearinghouse
NEWS ARCHIVE 2004, JANUARY-JUNE
Please scroll down for earliest items
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
Psychiatric Services 55:577-580, May 2004
© 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.
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
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
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.
The authors are affiliated with the department of psychiatry at the
University of Chicago, 7230 Arbor Drive, Tinley Park, Illinois 60477
- End of Excerpt -
For more information, contact Dr. Patrick Corrigan. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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
We welcome your comments. Email email@example.com
May 9, 2004 - News
of the Week
COURAGEOUS TEENAGER ENDS SILENCE, TEACHES
ARTICLE: Toronto Star, May 6, 2004
Frank talk on mental illness
17-year-old discusses her battle with disease
Mood Disorder group wants openness on issue
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"I found myself facing a new adversary that was even tougher than the
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
- End of Article -
April 25, 2004 - News
of the Week
FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT PREJUDICE
Article: Copyright The New York Times
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company (http://www.nytimes.com)
April 18, 2004 - News
of the Week
A PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVOR NAMES BIGGEST
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
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,
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
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
Source: Consumer Affairs E-News
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
Date: Tuesday April 20th, 2004
While schools are primarily concerned with education, mental health is
essential to learning as well as to social and emotional development.
Time: 4:00pm - 5:15pm (Eastern Time)
To join this teleconference, scroll down to REGISTER NOW!
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
To register for this teleconference, please reply
via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
indicating that you want to participate.
Please keep the subject heading as it is here: ADS Center High
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
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 email@example.com .
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
/BY PENELOPE GREEN
Article from The New York Times
April 4, 2004 (Copyright New York Times)
HABITATS | HARLEM
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
March 24, 2004
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
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
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
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
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.
Source: Eyewitness News
(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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
March 7, 2004 - News
of the Week
(1) YATES TRAGEDY BRINGS REFORM AND
(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
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.
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.
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
The Halifax Herald Limited, Tuesday, March 2,
Article sidebar: A sample of terms the Health Department and the
Canadian Mental Health Association consider outdated, negative or
- 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
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
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
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
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,"
"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.
for a copy of the proposed "Convention on the
Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With
What's next? Find out what needs to be done between now and May. E-mail
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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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."
(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
"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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
MARS, INC., the giant candy and snacks conglomerate, has joined with
LucasWorld.com to attract pre-teens to their candy and entertainment
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
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
Contact information is below. Executives' names at MARS INC. are not
available to the public:
6885 Elm Street
McLean, VA 22101
Mars Inc. Marketing Department
Master Foods, USA
800 High Street
Hackettstown, NJ 07840
LucasWorld.com has its offices (Spanish-speaking)
To call from the U.S.: 01152- 818-625-1000