National Alliance on Mental Illness
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ACTION NEEDED: Syndicated Columnist Attacks Voting Rights
NAMI has called for a public apology for the "viciously prejudiced" column by nationally syndicated columnist Don Feder concerning efforts by the mental health community to register people with mental illnesses to vote in the 2000 elections- Feder was responding to a front-page story in the New York Times, October 13, 1999, announcing the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project, which seeks to create, "a nationwide constituency of people with mental illnesses by locating potential voters-- whether in hospitals, at advocacy events, in housing projects, clinics or support groups."
Feders column featured the following: "Here is an interest group in the making. Give me your schizophrenics, your paranoids, your manic depressives, yearning for -- what? Well, politicians who understand "mental health issues" and support "better services" (more government spending), Al Gore will pledge to put psychos in his Cabinet....The result could be a new sensitivity. No longer will a candidate call his opponent's proposal "just plain nuts!" or charge that "only a lunatic could support" certain measures. Expressions like "detached from reality" and "delusional" would also be banished from the political debate Why shouldn't the mentally ill vote? There have been persistent efforts to register the homeless, on the theory that people who don't work, or have a permanent address or responsibilities (and many of whom are addicts, alcoholics or crazy to boot) can make important contributions to the political system. . . The mentally ill may be uniquely qualified to understand American politics, which increasingly seems in serious need of physical restraints."
Laurie Flynn responded: "I cannot emphasize enough the cruel and offensive character of Mr. Feder's column, which crossed a line between partisan commentary and bigotry,"
Fortunately, Mr. Feder's mocking prejudice is surpassed by modern science," Flynn declared. "Mental illnesses today are understood to be biological brain disorders, which can be successfully treated and managed at rates even greater than that for heart disease."
Ironically, Boston University's Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation released a study the same week as Feder's column, showing that out of some 500 professionals and managers who have struggled with mental illnesses, 73 percent are able to work full-time, with 20 percent earning $50,000 or more each year. Flynn points out: "They are among the people with mental illnesses whom Mr. Feder considers absurd to have vote. Others perhaps include the close family members of three presidential candidates: i.e, Tipper Gore, Barbara Bush, and Hank Buchanan." Mental Illness is not a partisan issue.
NAMI StigmBusters need to let Feder, his editor and publisher know how hurtful and discriminatory this column is to all persons with a severe mental illness and to their families. Please email your personal story with the message that treatment works, that persons with mental illness are recovering, and that the pervasive stigma fueled by Feders column can hamper their access to employment, housing, treatment, and services.
Email your response to:
Publisher: firstname.lastname@example.org (Patrick Purcell, Publisher)
UPDATE: Mensa Withdraws Offensive Carols From Web Site
Mensas offensive humor article "Christmas Carols for the Psychiatrically Challenged" has been withdrawn from the Mensa Eastern North Carolina Web site. This is the result of your letters plus some very positive, genuine dialogue with chapter leaders during a two week period. We thank Cathy Novick, coordinator of Mensas Affective Friends special Interest Group, who played a critical role in mediating both NAMI and Mensa concerns.
NAMI appreciates Mensas understanding of the extent of our offense at this hurtful humor posting. NAMI also recognizes and commends their posting of Free Screening Day for Depression during Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Thank you for your comments and reports to us, and for your educational letters to the stigma perpetrators.
Every message helps!
Stella March, Coordinator
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We look forward to hearing from you!