Letters for the week of March 24-30, 2004 

Cinema therapy, take two; gay theologians want their cake ... ; and yet more back and forth on the mental illness issue.

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What happens, though, when the Bible becomes irrelevant? Without the Bible as a divine set of guidelines for living and as an explanation for our existence, churches will become just clumps of people who think alike spiritually based on their own ideas of right, wrong, and the universe, etc. (Actually, we already have that -- they are called "denominations.") Maybe that is okay, too.

I think we are all just guessing about the whole God-soul-afterlife thing, anyway. Sometimes I am amused, sometimes I am annoyed, by everyone trying to fight it out using the Bible ... when the Bible may not be the source of divine "TRUTH" in the first place. There have been so many translations and so much editing by so many men over so many centuries that we may never know what the original really said, or who really wrote what, and then there are the writings excluded for reasons ranging from scholarly to self-serving. Perhaps the reason the Bible is the cause of so much debate, disagreement, and angst is because its authors were not in agreement nor were they all divinely inspired. Perhaps.

Also, this movement by some gays to get gays to accept a view of sex and commitment that is different from the straight mainstream is just sleazy. They say gays don't have to embrace the conservative straight world's values when it comes to sex and relationships. It is nothing more than an attempt to give validity to a lifestyle of casual or loveless sex outside of a committed relationship. Sleazy. Period.

Too many gays are just about sex, and that is one reason why gays often look like perverts to the straight world. I find myself getting used to the fact that gays I have just met assume that, because I am gay, it is acceptable to start discussing sexual matters in an obscene manner. I realize that straight society has become more trashy, but if a straight man talked filthy to a woman he just met, he would get slapped in the face (I hope). Why should our standards be lower? When I went to a gay bookstore looking for Christmas cards about love and acceptance, I found instead Christmas cards with Santa Claus having sex with his reindeer.

Why should our standards be lower?
Glenn Mitchell, Orlando, FL

"The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," Feature, 2/18

Thanks for being rational
Recently read your article and wanted to applaud you for writing so candidly what many people today do not want to hear about. If you haven't already, you can expect to receive rather harsh criticism from a variety of groups who purport to serve in the best interest of people with psych difficulties. Abuses surely are unacceptable; however, much of what I've read of late is dramatic, irrational, and unsophisticated. But the violence toward mental health workers is staggering at times, with very little protection for them/us. So thanks for taking a rational approach to the subject.
Dr. Troy Martinez, forensic and clinical psychologist, Wichita Falls, TX

A controversial claim
Although any death by violence is horrific and tragic, this article portrays all people with mental illness as violent and uncontrollable. From the grotesque caricature of a mentally ill psychiatric patient on the cover to unchallenged comments about dealing with violence as "part of the job" for people who work with the mentally ill, this article perpetuates misunderstanding of those with mental illness as violent, deranged, and in need of incarceration. The simple truth is that media, such as the Express, through ignorance and need to publish "interesting" and "dramatic" stories, turn to stories of the mentally ill that fit the stereotype but do not fit the reality.

Despite what is implied in the story, people with severe mental illness are no [more] likely to be violent than the general public. Many people diagnosed with mental illness go on to live full, rich, meaningful lives. They are employed in all realms of life, have families, contribute to society, and want to live without the unnecessary stigma and pervasive discrimination that are so rife in this culture.

The weekend this article was in print and on the racks at my campus, Dr. Courtney Harding, a renowned researcher and clinician in psychiatric rehabilitation, was speaking at the annual Symposium of the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness Education, Cal State Hayward, about the reality of recovery from severe mental illness. She shattered the myths of danger and chronic deteriorating illness, based on worldwide long-term longitudinal studies of people with diagnoses of schizophrenia. The work was not only with people who were hospitalized, but studied the lives of people with schizophrenia for up to thirty years after they had left hospital, thereby eliminating the "lens of bias" found in work done on only those who are seeking help or who are in need of involuntary treatment, the people who are in the system because they need substantial assistance.

Locally, many mental health clients and providers are working together to reduce and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness in our community. They are working hard to counter the myths and stereotypes, to provide corrective information to providers, families, schoolchildren, the media, and many others through publications and an active speaker's bureau. Several client-run agencies can provide local understanding of these issues and show in vivid color that it is not just anonymous worldwide study participants who recover from severe mental illness and emotional crises, but neighbors, family members, community workers, mental health providers, teachers, janitors, students, co-workers, and friends have too.

If you want a truly "exciting" story to print, it is THIS story which is truly dramatic and telling. It also has the benefit of being the TRUTH.
Tracy Thode, San Leandro
Member, board of directors, Institute of Mental Health and Wellness Education; director, Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services

Editor's Note
The writer's claim that people with severe mental illness are no more likely to be violent than the general public is highly controversial. While we are aware of at least one study (HJ Steadman et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998) that in part supports that claim, Steadman's study applied to patients who were largely free from substance-abuse problems and had been taking their medications. As John George staff psychiatrist Harold Cottman notes in the story, about half of the county hospital's patients have drug or alcohol abuse issues, and many are indigent and don't receive proper treatment. Furthermore, it has been documented in countless studies, in cities all around the world, that severely mentally ill people who don't get proper treatment, or who aren't taking their medications as indicated, are quite a bit more likely than the average citizen to harm others. In a 1992 American Psychologist article entitled "Mental Disorder and Violent Behavior," author Dr. John Monahan noted, "The data suggest that public education programs by advocates for the mentally disordered along the lines of 'people with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of us' may be doomed to failure. ... And they should: the claim, it turns out, may well be untrue." This excerpt, plus summaries and citations for the aforementioned studies, can be found on the Web site of the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center at PsychLaws.org/BriefingPapers/BP8.htm

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