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”

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.

Sullivan, who is also a Fox Business contributor and guest anchor, attempted damage control in a February 4 Facebook post, claiming  “I do believe in bipolar disease. There is a two minute clip going around of my comments out of a two hour discussion. It is easy to take comments out of context. Of course I believe bipolar is real and is a mental illness that needs to be treated.” He added: “All I was trying to do was to point out that out of that big increase I suspect there are people who are not sick but looking for a disability check. My further point was by doing so, those people were hurting those who really are sick and need help, i.e. funding, treatments, etc.”  

He continued: “I apologize to those who were hurt by the clip of my comments. I am a somewhat jaded person who thinks some people are gaming our system due to their greed. But, I also believe mental illness is a very serious problem that is ignored by too many. This episode shows how easy it is to distort a persons comments, especially when the subject is very important.”

Sullivan is misrepresenting his remarks. If he truly intended to get the message across that “mental illness is a very serious problem that is ignored by too many,” he had a strange way of doing so. On his January 28 show, Sullivan repeatedly doubted the existence of bipolar disorder in response to a caller who said she had the illness. Sullivan said, among other things: 

  • “I think bipolar is like the latest fad. Everybody and their brother is getting diagnosed with bipolar. And last time I checked, we all have good days and we all have bad. And I don't consider that an illness. And I don't consider it a disability.”
  • “I just think it's 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.”  
  • “I don't know why we have to create these new illnesses, and create all these medicines for something that really wasn't a problem in the first place.”  

When the caller said she considered suicide in response to her bipolar disorder, Sullivan responded: “You ever think that maybe, maybe somebody's talked you into feeling and thinking this way?”

From the January 28 edition of Fox News Radio's The Tom Sullivan Show

SULLIVAN: I'm very skeptical. And 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 last time I checked, we all have good days and we all have bad. And I don't consider that an illness. And I don't consider it a disability.

CALLER: That is very true, however, there are people that have the extremes of that. They have their bad days, are beyond -- I mean you literally cannot get out of bed. Not because you don't, that you don't want to --

SULLIVAN: What were these people called 25 years ago?

CALLER: Well, you know what, it's funny --

SULLIVAN: Before they came with this bipolar diagnosis. I mean, I just think it's 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.  

[...]

SULLIVAN: You ever heard of these doctors that say the psychology business is full of basically people -- it's big pharma that's pushing the whole thing because they make a ton of money? Your parents never would have gotten this. There wasn't even a diagnosis as bipolar when your parents were your age.

CALLER: No, that's true.

SULLIVAN: So -- and you know what? They did just fine. Society did fine. I don't know, I don't know why we have to create these new illnesses, and create all these medicines for something that really wasn't a problem in the first place.

CALLER: Well, I understand what you're saying. And that is a common, that's a common feeling for a lot of people. They don't understand it, and honestly, you won't understand it until you experience it. And I would never wish this on my worst enemy. But it 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. So if, you know, there are actual problems. I'm actually affected physically, not just mentally, you know, having disabilities --

SULLIVAN: You ever think that maybe, maybe somebody's talked you into feeling and thinking this way?

CALLER: I wish. No. 

Media Matters did not take Sullivan's remarks out of context or distort them in a “two minute clip.”  In fact, Media Matters posted the same five minute radio segment that Sullivan's own Fox News Radio website postedMedia Matters also posted roughly ten additional minutes of Sullivan's remarks in which he claimed people with mental illness have figured how to “game the system” by receiving disability benefits. 

Fox News Radio's summary of the segment also shows Sullivan is being misleading. Fox promoted Sullivan's segment with the headline, "(AUDIO) Bipolar Woman Says She DESERVES Disability Benefits. Tom Tells Her She's WRONG!" Fox continued that a caller “told Tom she suffered from a 'bipolar disorder' and needed disability, but he wasn't buying it!”  and asked, “should he have more compassion for people like [the caller]?” Sullivan linked to the summary on his Facebook page. 

When Sullivan posted his purported clarification on Facebook, one commenter responded, “Well maybe you need to talk to foxnews radio because that is where I heard that snippet at.”

Sullivan concluded his post by claiming this episode “has reinforced my commitment to making mental illness on a equal par with physical illnesses instead of the stigma it currently receives.”  

Regardless of his dishonesty, it's good Sullivan finally acknowledges that bipolar disorder is a real and serious illness. 

But it's unfortunate that Sullivan still believes there is a large segment of the population faking mental illness in “looking for a disability check.” Such medical decisions should, as they are now, be left to medical doctors and not a Fox News Radio host.

Listen to Sullivan's January 28 remarks below:

Sullivan's Facebook post:

I received a nice email from Gina about my comments. Here is my response to her: Gina,

Thank you for your email. May I tell you I have received a number of similar messages but usually laced with profanity. Your message stood out for the kindness of your words.

First, I need to tell you I do believe in bipolar disease. There is a two minute clip going around of my comments out of a two hour discussion. It is easy to take comments out of context. Of course I believe bipolar is real and is a mental illness that needs to be treated.

The program began with the subject being the huge increase in disability claims made to the Social Security Disability Fund which is going broke in 2016. The increase in claims is startling and the number one reason for the big increase in claims is mental illness and a subset (according the way Soc Security categorizes) of mood disorder.

All I was trying to do was to point out that out of that big increase I suspect there are people who are not sick but looking for a disability check.

My further point was by doing so, those people were hurting those who really are sick and need help, i.e. funding, treatments, etc.

I have for years advocated on my program for more funding and insurance coverage of mental illness. Too many have ignored it and as a result our jails are now the “mental institutions” where the people get zero help.

I apologize to those who were hurt by the clip of my comments. I am a somewhat jaded person who thinks some people are gaming our system due to their greed. But, I also believe mental illness is a very serious problem that is ignored by too many.

This episode shows how easy it is to distort a persons comments, especially when the subject is very important. It will and has reinforced my commitment to making mental illness on a equal par with physical illnesses instead of the stigma it currently receives.

Again, thank you for your email and your concern,

Tom