As individuals and representatives of organizations working for self-determination and empowerment for people labeled with mental illness, we are writing to express our extreme dismay at the Washington City Paper’s stigmatizing coverage of people diagnosed with mental illness in the District of Columbia in “The Sick and the Dead” (7/11) by Stephanie Mencimer.

Mencimer’s article does a great disservice to people with psychiatric disabilities and to the public at large by reinforcing harmful and defamatory stereotypes of people diagnosed with mental illness as violent criminals. Mencimer uses disrespectful and irresponsible language such as “nut case” and “lunatic” on several occasions when referring to people diagnosed with mental illness. Would your publication refer to people with physical disabilities as “crips” or “gimps?” This terminology is offensive to the disability community, and we demand an apology for the use of such irresponsible, hateful, and discriminatory language.

The article also employs a dangerous form of doublespeak, categorizing people with mental illness as potentially violent criminals, while the MacArthur Foundation study, cited within the article, contradicts this assertion. When the results of the MacArthur study are considered, Mencimer’s statements such as “[T]he mentally ill are wreaking an untold amount of misery” and “[T]hese tragedies are part of an epidemic that unfolds before us daily” become irresponsible exaggerations not based on a rational evaluation of the facts, but on journalistic sensationalism.

In fact, a study by researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University has found that people with severe mental illness—schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis—are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. The study found that they are two-and-a-half times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population.

The crimes committed by people such as Russell Weston, Sharon Williams, Jeffrey Daniels, and John Hinckley Jr. are indeed horrific; however, these cases are the tragic exception, not the rule. To imply otherwise is misleading and irresponsible, and serves to reinforce stigma and discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.

Board member

National Association of Rights

Protection and Advocacy

Washington, D.C.

Nancy Lee Head

Board member

D.C. Mental Health Consumers League

Martha Knisley

Director

D.C. Department of Mental Health

Laura Van Tosh

Silver Spring, Md.

Jim Ward

Executive director

ADAWatch and National Coalition

for Disability Rights

Washington, D.C.

and 25 others