WAMC: NY MH Advocates Deplore Media Coverage, Urge Alternatives to Expanding Kendra's Law

NY Advocates: Mentally Ill Are Maligned

By Dave Lucas WAMC   January 4, 2013


Advocates say the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than to be attackers, faulting media reports and gun rights interests for perpetuating inaccurate stigmas following recent crimes.

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Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Rehabilitation Services, says referring to the mentally ill with phrases like "violent psychotics" and "monsters" vilifies one-fifth of Americans who have various psychiatric disabilities.


Harvey Rosenthal: “The facts are that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than the general public and as a matter of fact are 12 times more likely to be victims of violence. And as an example, a lot of the vile coverage is coming from New York City tabloids. There was an article in the Post last week that talked about the transfer of people with mental illness from Adult Homes to Supported Housing and the headline was “Here Come the Crazies”.  There was a time when other groups had that kind of stigma, and they accept it until they push back and then it stops. We in our Community, the Mental Health Community, need to make that stop. Even if it means going down to the New York Post and surrounding that building with pickets and raising the issue of this kind of coverage. You don’t hear it anymore for Jews or Irish people, Black people, or Gays and Lesbians, but it’s okay I guess for the mentally ill.”


Rosenthal is concerned that defamatory media will shame and deter many from seeking help, though most can substantially recover from disabling conditions with personalized services.

The New York Post did not respond to requests for comment.


Glenn Liebman, director of the Mental Health Association of New York State, agrees that labeling mentally ill people with what may be perceived as derogatory words and phrases, serves no good purpose.


Glenn Liebman: “When you are talking about the fact that one in five people in our Country, 20% of people in our Country, have some kind of mental illness, you’re talking about families, individuals, close friends, anybody; we’re basically all impacted by mental illness either directly or indirectly. So when you see those kind of things happening, the unfortunate byproduct of that is that people who need services, and we know that 2/3 of people that need mental health services never seek them and the number one reason is the stigma associated with them. So people are going to run away from the services they need that would help them recover and move forward in their lives.


The advocates agree that recent emphasis on 24-hour emergency phone lines, peer support, housing, family services, managed care and outreach are showing results. Harvey Rosenthal says they are encouraged by health reforms in New York initiated through Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration.


Harvey Rosenthal: “Making services more accountable, paying for them according to not how often you see someone but by what the outcome of that is. Requiring services to be much more in synch with each other, and coordinated. Offering electronic health care records to share information in real time. So we’re seeing already a drop in relapses and readmissions with this kind of better and more coordinated care.”


Rosenthal criticizes suggestions calling for forced treatment under expansion of Kendra's Law, which lets courts order mentally ill people with histories of violence into outpatient treatment: Rosenthal says it would cost a hundred million dollars to implement, send the wrong message, and drive more people with mental illness "underground"