National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the nation's largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with mental illness, has expressed "shock and outrage" over a headline in The Trentonian newspaper in Trenton, NJ for a July 10, 2002 story about a fire at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital-calling it one of the "worst examples of prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental illnesses in recent memory."
The headline was "Roasted Nuts"
Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the fire, but the attitude it reflected, no matter how humorously or innocently intended, represents the kind of "devaluation" of people with mental illnesses that the U.S. Surgeon General has called "the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and mental health."
NAMI intends to raise the incident in testimony before President Bush's "New Freedom" Commission on Mental Health on July 18 in Washington, D.C., during hearings on proposed reforms of the nation's treatment system-and in antistigma conferences later this month sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one of which will consider drafting formal guidelines for the news media.
Devaluation of people's lives through stigma leads to lack of investment in treatment and recovery. How The Trentonian deals with the incident also may have "far-reaching legal implications," NAMI warned.
In a letter to David Bonfield, publisher of The Trentonian, NAMI called the headline a reflection of "a failure of internal leadership" and gross institutional irresponsibility, dismissing as "inadequate" an apology published the following day by the copy editor who wrote the headline.
"Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and potentially other federal and state laws, the headline provides prima facie evidence of a hostile work environment for people with mental illnesses or their family members," warned NAMI executive director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D. Statistically, that may include as many as 20 percent of The Trentonian employees.
He advised Bonfield to take "affirmative, remedial actions" for the benefit of both the newspaper's employees and the broader community.
NAMI also is investigating potential legal action.