National Alliance on Mental Illness
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For Immediate Release, November 9, 1999
Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today called on for a public apology for a "viciously prejudiced" column by syndicated columnist Don Feder concerning efforts by the mental health community to register people with mental illnesses to vote in the 2000 elections—and has asked for a syndicated national opportunity to respond.
"I cannot emphasize enough the cruel and offensive character of Mr. Feder’s column, which crossed a line between partisan commentary and bigotry," NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn declared in a letter to Richard Newcombe, president of the Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles and Patrick Purcell, publisher of the Boston Herald.
"We doubt very much that a similar attack on racial or ethnic minorities or people with physical disabilities would have been published. Indeed, radio talk show hosts and sports commentators who have made such grossly insensitive remarks often have been suspended or fired," Flynn noted.
Coinciding with NAMI’s opening of a voter registration and education campaign in New Hampshire, Feder’s column asked: "Give me your schizophrenics, your paranoids, your manic depressives—for what?" He then complained about the principle that "everyone’s vote counts"—including that of "the person, who not only believes the CIA covered up the so-called Roswell landing, but that he was on hand to meet the aliens."
"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. "They are among the people with mental illnesses whom Mr. Feder considers it 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 condition," Flynn observed.