Mental Health

Issues ››› Mental Health
  • New Report Presents Opportunity For Networks To Address How Climate Change Affects Public Health

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Extreme Heat Danger

    The Obama administration has released a comprehensive new scientific report detailing how climate change affects human health, presenting the broadcast networks' nightly news programs with a good opportunity to cover a critical topic that they rarely addressed last year.  

    The Climate and Health Assessment, which is the result of three years of research by approximately 100 health and science experts in eight federal agencies, builds on the findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's National Climate Assessment and signifies increased "scientific confidence in the link between climate change and a broad range of threats to public health."

    These threats include some of the most severe effects of global warming, such as increased incidence of death from extreme heat waves and worsened air quality, as well as some less discussed impacts, including the potential for carbon pollution to make our food crops less nutritious and the toll that weather-related disasters can take on our mental health. The report also details how climate change will increase or otherwise alter the risks of suffering from various diseases and illnesses, including Lyme disease from ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitos, water-borne illnesses, and Salmonella poisoning from food.

    Any of these topics could provide fodder for an important and informative nightly news segment that would help viewers better understand the threats and challenges posed by climate change.

    NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News did each provide a substantial report last year on the ways climate change is impacting allergies and asthma, respectively. But here, too, the Obama administration report provides opportunities for additional coverage.

    For instance, the networks could examine these issues from an environmental justice perspective; the report finds that minority adults and children "bear a disproportionate burden associated with asthma as measured by emergency department visits, lost work and school days, and overall poorer health status." And when considering all of the various health impacts, the report identifies many specific populations that are "disproportionately vulnerable" to climate change:

    [C]limate change exacerbates some existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. While all Americans are at risk, some populations are disproportionately vulnerable, including those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.

    The networks could also cover some of these public health findings alongside a distressing new study on sea level rise, which projects severe impacts on coastal cities that will undoubtedly have profound implications on the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Or they could address the public health benefits of the most significant U.S. climate policy in U.S. history, the Clean Power Plan, which the networks infrequently covered in 2015 -- and which polluting fossil fuel industry groups and allied attorneys general are now fighting in court.

    Major news outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Time magazine, The Associated Press, and McClatchyDC have already covered the new White House report. Now is the time for the broadcast networks' nightly news programs to improve on last year's coverage and educate their viewers about the myriad ways that a changing climate is affecting our health.

    Image at top via Flickr user Graeme Maclean using a Creative Commons license.

    public health

  • Fox's Erickson Smears Transgender Service Members As "Mentally Ill" In Response To DOD's New Policy

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News contributor Erick Erickson attacked transgender military members as "mentally ill" in response to the Pentagon's landmark announcement that the Department of Defense will create a working group to review "policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly." 

    On July 13, a press release from Secretary of Defense Carter Ash stated that the military's current ban on transgender service members is outdated and going forward, "must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve":

    The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions. At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they're able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite. Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines - real, patriotic Americans - who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit.

    Today, I am issuing two directives to deal with this matter. First, DoD will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly. Led by (Acting) Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, and composed of military and civilian personnel representing all the military services and the Joint Staff, this working group will report to Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified. Second, I am directing that decision authority in all administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender be elevated to Under Secretary Carson, who will make determinations on all potential separations.

    After this announcement, Erickson responded on Twitter that transgender individuals, specifically those serving in the military, are "mentally ill":

    In its report on this news, Time cited a report from the Williams Institute at UCLA that estimated 15,500 transgender individuals currently serve in the U.S. military.

    Note: This post has been updated for clarity.

  • Fox News' Special Report Demeans Transgender Teens As Impressionable Children With A Mental Disorder

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    A segment on Fox News' Special Report attacked a law in Oregon that allows transgender individuals to receive medical treatments according to their gender identity by calling teens who can seek the treatment "fickle" and falsely claiming that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has labeled gender dysphoria as a mental disorder. But studies show that medical care for transgender individuals is important for their mental health and the APA stopped classifying "gender identity disorder" as a mental disorder in 2012.

    In January, Oregon's Medicaid began covering medical treatments for transgender individuals as young as 15 -- the age of medical consent in the state -- to alleviate depression and suicide." Teens 15 and older can receive the treatment without parental consent.

    On the July 9 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier reported on the law by commenting that 15-year-olds are impressionable and fickle. Fox correspondent Dan Springer then falsely argued that gender dysphoria is classified as a mental disorder by the APA.

    A January psychological study that was published in the journal Psychological Science "found that young people who claim a different gender than what was assigned at birth identify as consistently and innately with that gender identity as other kids their age that are not trans." And in 2012, the APA removed "gender identity disorder" from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ThinkProgress noted that the APA has issued statements in support of medical care for transgender individuals and their civil rights:

    Following up on guidelines generated by a report on transgender healthcare last month, the American Psychiatric Association has issued official position statements on the care and civil rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The new statements reflect this year's editions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V) that will identify being transgender as "Gender Dysphoria," removing the classification of "Gender Identity Disorder." The APA explained the importance of standing up for the trans community, citing the "significant discrimination, prejudice, and the potential for victimization from violent hate crimes, as well as denial of many basic civil rights, protections, and access to health care, to the severe detriment of their mental health.

    Studies found that the rate of suicide attempts in the transgender community are "staggering." According to the LA Times, a "whopping 41% of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average." The same study also found that "78 percent who experienced social and family rejection attempted suicide, as did 65 percent who experienced work-based violence and over half who experienced anti-trans bullying at school."

    CORRECTION: The original post stated that the APA stopped listing "gender dysphoria" as a mental disorder in 2012. In fact, the APA stopped listing "gender identity disorder" as a mental disorder, replacing with with the term "gender dysphoria" to describe the clinically significant stress a person experiences when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.

  • The Problem With CNN's Treatment Of Mental Health In Coverage Of Dallas Police Attack

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota posited that "mental illness" may "lead to violence" while discussing a recent shooting in Dallas, a problematic framing of mental health issues that feeds false stigmas and ignores research debunking the notion of a direct causal link between mental health and violence. 

    James Boulware attacked Dallas police headquarters with a gun before fleeing in an armored van on June 13. He was killed after a brief standoff with police, and his relatives are now saying Boulware had a history of mental health issues. 

    Discussing the Dallas shooting on June 15, CNN's Alisyn Camerota implied there may be a direct connection between mental health issues and violence, asking her guest, "Do you see this as just another sad case of someone's mental illness leading to violence?" Citing the Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT shootings, Camerota then said, "We hate to give the impression that mental illness leads to violence, but does mental illness lead to violence, like in these cases?"  

    But there is no evidence of a direct connection between mental health and violence -- A 2013 report from The Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy explained how most people with mental health issues are "more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence," noting that only about 4 percent of violence in the United states "is attributable to mental illness.":  

    Many recent gun violence prevention policy discussions have assumed a direct causal connection between mental illness and violence. The research evidence suggests that violence has many interacting causes, and that mental illness alone very rarely causes violence.


    Importantly, only a very small proportion of violence in the United States - about 4% - is attributable to mental illness. 

    According to the Consortium, only under very limited circumstances does a link exist between "individuals with serious mental illness" and violence: 

    Most people with serious mental illness - which includes conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - are never violent toward others, and are in fact more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. However, research suggests that small subgroups of individuals with serious mental illness, at certain times, such as the period surrounding a psychiatric hospitalization or the first episode of psychosis, are at elevated risk of violence. In addition, the population with serious mental illness experiences high rates of co-occurring substance use, an important risk factor for violent behavior in the general population.

    Out of the Consortium report grew the Gun Violence Restraining Order proposal, which would allow family members of a "person who is at an elevated risk of harm to self and/or others to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from that individual." 

    Speculation like Camerota's feeds into the misperception that people with mental health issues are inherently violent, a myth about which the public is already misinformed. This misunderstanding is often fueled by entertainment and news media that mostly portray such people as dangerous, leading to widespread stigma and discrimination

  • Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, And The College Mental Health Crisis Media Coverage Ignores

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY


    The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan criticizes the "Trigger-Happy Generation" in her latest column, adding to the increasingly wide range of media figures questioning the merits of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" on college campuses. But her attacks in particular reveal a troubling element largely missing from this debate: an honest assessment of the crisis of mental health support for students. 

    Trigger warnings and safe spaces, in theory, attempt to warn and shield students from material that might remind them of past trauma or reinforce a hostile experience. In practice, they take on many different forms, giving ammunition to both defenders and critics who often see them as overzealous attempts to shield students from reality.

    In her May 21 column, Noonan places herself squarely in the critics' camp, labeling on-campus advocacy for safe spaces and trigger warnings as "part of a growing censorship movement." She specifically targets an opinion piece in a Columbia University newspaper, which described in part a survivor of sexual assault wanting greater protection after feeling triggered during a class discussion on the rape scenes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Noonan argues that the world is an unsafe place, and that students shouldn't try to shape it into something more comforting:

    There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can't expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety ... [I]f you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?

    Noonan is being flippant, but her dismissive joke actually points to a growing problem: colleges don't offer students enough mental health support, which may be one explanation for the growing trend of students trying to create safe spaces and safe texts for themselves.

    May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the same day Noonan's column was published, a report released as part of the campaign found that millennials who work (which would include many college students) have the highest rates of depression of any generation. Last year, The Washington Post noted that according to recent studies, "44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students."

    And victims of rape, intimate-partner violence, stalking, or sexual assault -- which the Columbia University student Noonan highlighted reportedly was -- are "drastically more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives," according to a 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association study, CNN reported at the time.

    These students often don't have access to help, including the therapy Noonan blithely suggested. In 2011, the American Psychological Association labeled the state of mental health on campuses a "growing crisis," and they've continued to track the concerns since. College counseling centers, they explained, "are frequently forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing caseloads. For example, 76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visits for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients." 88 percent of campus counseling centers surveyed by the American College Counseling Association said they experienced staffing problems due to the increase in demand, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.

    Some see this rise in numbers as a partially good sign, as it indicates more students are aware of the services available, and that the stigma against seeking help may be diminishing.

    But as of 2012, only 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offered on-campus psychiatric services. Fewer than 13 percent of community colleges did as well. The services can't keep up with the rise in demand.

    To be sure, not all of the students asking for safe spaces or trigger warnings on their campuses need therapy, nor are they all seeking these spaces because of a general lack of robust mental health service on their campuses. However, I know at least some of them are, because that's exactly what I did.

  • Fox Host Offers Brazenly Dishonest Defense For Calling Bipolar Disorder "Made Up"

    Fox Host Tom Sullivan's Own Website Wondered If He Should "Have More Compassion"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Fox News Radio host Tom Sullivan is backtracking and brazenly lying about his controversial remarks calling bipolar disorder "made up" and "the latest fad." While Sullivan now claims his remarks were taken "out of context," this defense is preposterous. He repeatedly dismissed the validity of bipolar disorder and the clip used by Media Matters was the same one posted by his employer with the headline "(AUDIO) Bipolar Woman Says She DESERVES Disability Benefits. Tom Tells Her She's WRONG!"

    During his January 28 program, Sullivan told a caller who said she suffered from bipolar disorder that "bipolar is like the latest fad." He also claimed, "I just think it's something made up by the mental health business," and "I don't know why we have to create these new illnesses" for something that "wasn't a problem in the first place."

    Sullivan's remarks generated condemnation from Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), members of the mediamental health advocatespeople on social media, and online petitioners. Many have pointed out that comments like Sullivan's only further stigmatize those suffering from mental illness.

  • Congresswoman Calls Out Fox Host's Claim That Bipolar Disorder Is "Made Up"

    Rep. Grace Napolitano: Tom Sullivan's "Senseless Speech" Discourages Treatment

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) criticized Fox News Radio host Tom Sullivan for his "unfounded" and "senseless" remarks last week calling bipolar disorder "made up" and "the latest fad."

    In a statement provided to Media Matters, Napolitano said that Sullivan's "senseless speech discourages listeners and viewers from seeking treatment they need, halting the progress we have made toward the goal of eliminating stigma." She added: "Rather than minimizing people who have the courage to talk about their illness we should be lifting them up, so others know it is always okay to ask for help."

    The California congresswoman is a longtime mental health advocate and was the co-chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus in the 108th through 112th (2003-2013) Congresses.

    Sullivan, who is also a Fox Business contributor and regular guest anchor, said on his January 28 Fox News Radio program that people with mental illness have figured how to "game the system" by receiving disability benefits. He added, "they're mostly government employees and they know how to do it."

  • Rand Paul's Alex Jones Problem: Vaccines And "Martial Law"

    Paul Told Conspiracy Outlet That "Martial Law" Could Lead To "Mandatory" Vaccinations

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Rand Paul's connection to leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is under new scrutiny after the Republican senator recently claimed vaccines could lead to "mental disorders."

    In 2009, Paul was interviewed for Jones' and claimed "martial law" could lead to "mandatory" vaccinations. Paul is one of Jones' biggest enablers even though the radio host has pushed fringe theories about 9-11, mass shootings, and the federal government.

    Paul has been heavily criticized after he said this week that vaccines should be voluntary because there are purportedly "many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also recently said parents should have "some measure of choice" about vaccinations.  

    The Washington Post reported that "Medical experts reacted with alarm" to their remarks. MIT professor Seth Mnookin, who has written extensively on the "devastating" anti-vaccine movement, said the comments were "incredibly, incredibly irresponsible." University of Pittsburgh Dr. Amesh Adalja said people like Paul are "giving credence to things that have been completely debunked" and "called the comments from Paul particularly troubling because Paul is a doctor."

    Paul raised the specter of big government and "martial law" when talking about vaccines during an August 21, 2009 interview, as Media Matters Action Network reported in 2010. He said that "the first sort of thing you see with martial law is mandates. And they're talking about making it mandatory. I worry because the last flu vaccine we had in the 1970s, more people died from the vaccine than died from the swine flu."

    Paul, who was a U.S. Senate candidate at the time, added that he would have taken the smallpox and polio vaccine, but urged caution on vaccines in general, stating: "I say you have to be careful, you have to weigh the risks of the disease versus the risks of the vaccine, but I'm not going to tell people who think it's a bad idea that they have to take it because everybody should be allowed to make their own health care decisions, and that's the problem with allowing more and more government."