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While I appreciate the attention the Washington City Paper is devoting to the needs of people with mental illnesses, I was deeply offended by the way “The Sick and the Dead” (7/11) portrayed people with these disorders. Using derogatory and pejorative terms, such as “kooks of hazard,” “nut cases,” “crazy,” and “dangerous lunatics” is inaccurate, dehumanizing, and counterproductive.

In April 2002, President Bush cited the stigma that often surrounds mental illness—a stigma caused by misunderstanding, misperception, and fear—as the first obstacle to recovery for millions of Americans living with serious mental illnesses. He observed that “mental disability is not a scandal, it is an illness. And like physical illness, it is treatable, especially when the treatment comes early.” The just-released Report of the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health echoes those sentiments and calls for a national campaign to reduce the stigma associated with this treatable illness, from which people can and do recover.

Research has found that the vast majority of individuals with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else. In fact, research has indicated that persons with a mental illness are over two times more likely than the general population to be victims of violent crime.

Without a doubt, the availability, access, and quality of our nation’s mental-health services and supports must be improved, and we are working hard to do so in communities across the country. Articles such as this, however, serve to perpetuate the stigma and discrimination that Americans with mental illnesses face on a daily basis.

Acting Director

Center for Mental Health Services,

Substance Abuse and

Mental Health Services Administration

U.S. Department of Health

and Human Services