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.”
A California-based caller later challenged Sullivan over his remarks, saying she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder thirteen years ago and mental health treatment allowed her to graduate from college and obtain a full-time job.
Sullivan responded by telling her, “I've got to tell you, if you haven't been told, I will tell you. I think bipolar is like the latest fad. Everybody and their brother is getting diagnosed with bipolar” and the disease is “something made up by the mental health business just to be able to give people prescriptions and keep them coming in, and keeping you -- paying them money.”
The caller told Sullivan bipolar disorder “truly is a disorder and a disease. I know that personally I would not be alive today if it were not for medications and for therapy. Because I would have killed myself. When I was in college, I was there, I almost did it.” Sullivan responded: “You ever think that maybe, maybe somebody's talked you into feeling and thinking this way?”
Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts, Jr. criticized Sullivan in his February 3 syndicated column, writing that “Bipolar disorder, once known as manic depression, is one of the oldest diagnoses in psychiatry” and his dismissal is part of a dangerous and “emerging narrative that seems to question the very idea of mental illness.”
Rep. Napolitano's statement to Media Matters:
"The media plays an important role in our nation's dialogue on mental health, which is why it is critical that radio and television personalities exercise care before making unfounded conclusions about an individual's mental illness.
This host's senseless speech discourages listeners and viewers from seeking treatment they need, halting the progress we have made toward the goal of eliminating stigma.
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.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)."