Fox News Radio host Tom Sullivan told a caller who said she suffered from bipolar disorder that her illness is "something made up by the mental health business" and just "the latest fad." When the caller told Sullivan that she "would not be alive today" if she hadn't received mental health treatment, Sullivan wondered if "maybe somebody's talked you into feeling and thinking this way."
Sullivan, who is also a frequent Fox Business contributor and guest anchor, began his January 28 program by complaining that people with mental illness have figured how to "game the system" by receiving disability benefits. "They're mostly government employees and they know how to do it," he added. Sullivan also defended Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) controversial and false statement that "Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts."
A 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. The caller, who now volunteers with Stop Stigma Sacramento, noted that bipolar disorder isn't a made up illness and is biological.
Fox News' Keith Ablow issued a defiant statement defending his cable news psychoanalysis of President Obama after being condemned by medical experts.
Here is a sample of the type of bizarre and offensive commentary offered by Ablow:
Yesterday the Associated Press reported on criticism of Ablow from other psychiatrists, including the past president of the American Psychiatric Association's statement that "it is shameful and unfortunate that he is given a platform by Fox News or any other media organization."
Medical experts contacted by the Associated Press condemned Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow for his ongoing cable news psychoanalysis of President Obama, his wife, and other figures.
Last week, Michael Savage leveled his latest in a long string of attacks on Americans with mental illness and the medical community that works to help them. After a veteran caller with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) expressed support for the city of San Francisco naming a bridge after the late Robin Williams, the right-wing radio host announced that he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression," asserting that it's a sign of a "weak, sick, broken nation."
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately 5.2 million adults have PTSD within a given year. As of 2012, mental illness was the leading reason for active-duty hospitalizations in the military, and the VA estimates that up to 20 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 suffer from PTSD. For veterans who left the military between October 2002 and July 2011, nearly 200,000 had a provisional diagnosis for PTSD, not including those who went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. And the Institute of Medicine reported in June that "PTSD is the third most common major service-connected disability after hearing loss and ringing of the ears."
PTSD isn't just a combat-related injury. It can result from various traumatic incidents, ranging from child abuse to car accidents to muggings to sexual assault. A fight-or-flight response can be triggered by things that remind the survivor of her trauma, or things that catch the person off-guard, like bright lights or loud noises. Often those with PTSD experience flashbacks, where memories and feelings associated with past trauma come rushing back as if the trauma was happening all over again.
Conservative radio host Michael Savage accused those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, including military veterans, of being "weak," "narcissistic," "losers." Savage added that "we're being laughed at around the world. No wonder ISIS can defeat our military."
As Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman documented, Savage began an October 14 segment by complaining about a plan to rename a San Francisco tunnel after the late comedian Robin Williams. Savage called Williams "a depressed clown who was so selfish he choked himself to death with a belt." He added: "What is this sick, backwards area I live in?"
After getting into a heated argument with a caller who said he suffered from PTSD while in the military, Savage went on an unhinged rant in which he explained why he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression":
Fox News medical contributor Keith Ablow wrote that there is something wrong in the minds of Ferguson residents who reacted to the shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown by a police officer with protests.
In an August 20 opinion piece posted on FoxNews.com, Ablow opined that the psyche of Ferguson needs to be investigated following the unrest that erupted after Brown's killing. Ablow suggested that the community's reactions were racially motivated; accusing the residents of presuming "the moral depravity of whites," which they would not have done if the teen was raped or killed by a black police officer:
The psychology of those who rioted and committed other lawless acts in Ferguson is as suspect at this moment as the psychology of Darren Wilson, because their psychology presumes the moral depravity of whites - at least those in authority.
If a black officer had shot and killed Michael Brown, chances are there would be no protests at all. Perhaps there would be a civil suit. Perhaps there would be criminal charges against the officer involved. But there would be no unrest.
When a woman is raped even if by a police officer, the community does not erupt in violence, with throngs of women breaking windows and threatening to storm the police command station.
Whether or not Officer Darren Wilson is guilty of anything, something is deeply wrong with the psyche of the community in Ferguson, Mo. And understanding and addressing that pathology should be the first order of business of community leaders - even as the work of investigating the Michael Brown shooting is unfolding.
Community leaders and residents in Ferguson have worked to keep demonstrations peaceful, and media reports indicate that many of the people arrested for violence in Ferguson have come from outside the community to confront police. Some Ferguson residents have also worked to protect local businesses from looters.
Ablow continues to use his Fox News platform to make inflammatory claims and attack the Obama administration, most recently coming under fire for his comments calling Michelle Obama too fat to be a credible voice on school nutrition.
After coming under heavy criticism for exploiting the death of comedian Robin Williams to attack "political leftists," radio host Rush Limbaugh responded to the uproar by lashing out at Media Matters and the "leftist media" for highlighting his remarks.
During the August 12 broadcast of his show, Limbaugh tied Williams' death to what he described as the "leftist worldview." Discussing media accounts of Williams' suicide, Limbaugh said that the "survivor's guilt" mentioned as a possible contributing factor is "a constant measurement that is made by political leftists in judging the country":
Right here it says that one the contributing factors to Robin Williams deciding to kill himself was "survivor's guilt." It's in the headline.
I read that and I thought, "Survivor's guilt? What? What survivor's guilt? What?" So I read it, and it turns out that three of his closest friends, the story says -- Christopher Reeve, John Belushi, and Andy Kaufman... The source, unnamed in the story, said that Robin Williams felt guilty that he was still alive while his three friends had died young and much earlier than he had.
He could never get over the guilt that they died and he didn't.
Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political leftists in judging the country. It's outcome-based education: 2 + 2 = 5. "That's fine until the student learns it's 4. We're not gonna humiliate the student by pointing out that he's wrong. If he figures it out, cool. We're gonna take the fast learners and we're gonna slow them down so that they don't humiliate the kids that don't learn as fast as they do. It's just not fair."
Limbaugh's comments were widely reported by numerous media outlets. On his August 13 broadcast, Limbaugh responded to outrage over his comments by denying that he had "accused Robin Williams of committing suicide because he was a liberal," and blaming the negative response to his comments on Media Matters and the "leftist media.
Limbaugh has used similar tactics for years to escape responsibility for his commentary - - at times he even claims his offensive statements were an intentional "media tweak," a comment deliberately intended to draw attention from reporters.
In a rare exception, after coming under heavy criticism in 2012 for describing then-law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute," Limbaugh "sincerely apologize[d]" to her, saying he "did not mean a personal attack" by launching 44 personal insults at her over three broadcasts. Those comments led to a massive advertiser boycott of Limbaugh's program that continues to this day.
From the June 3 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News has resurrected a debunked, six-year old smear against President Obama as part of its desperate attempt at damage control in the wake of network contributor Karl Rove's baseless accusation that Hillary Clinton is suffering from brain damage.
On May 14, Fox News aired a sound bite from a 2008 CNN interview with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and CNN's Wolf Blitzer in which Obama states: "And, so, for him to toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination." Co-hosts Steve Doocy and Elisabeth Hasselbeck used the clip to recycle an old, debunked talking point that Obama was suggesting Sen. John McCain was "off his rocker" because he "was getting older." Fox then used this clip to argue that attacks on a political opponent's mental health occurs on both sides of the aisle in an attempt to paint Rove's recent comments suggesting Hillary Clinton had brain damage as "not unusual":
HASSELBECK: In 2008 Obama suggested McCain lost his bearings because he was getting older in fact.
DOOCY: Okay so where's the press attacking then Senator Obama for suggesting that John McCain was off his rocker? There wasn't any because you know there's just a double standard when it comes the left and the right in the mainstream media.
This attack dates back to 2008 when conservative media first tried to twist Obama's interview to claim he was attacking McCain's age. But even then, Obama's spokesman insisted that the comment was taken out of context while pointing out that "clearly losing one's bearing has no relation to age."
The transcript of the interview reveals that Obama was responding to McCain's smear where he claimed "Obama is favored by Hamas." Obama addressed the comment in the interview by pointing out that McCain had previously promised not to "run that kind of politics" by leading a smear campaign, and that by engaging in this negative campaigning, McCain had violated his pledge.
Rove's suggestion that Hillary Clinton might have brain damage from a 2012 concussion was widely criticized, yet conservative media have continued to politicize her health. Fox's efforts to exhume the thoroughly-debunked lies surrounding the 2008 campaign in an effort to run defense for Rove shows just how far the network is willing to go to smear Hillary Clinton and score political points in the next presidential election.
As journalists covering the Fort Hood mass shooting ponder possible connections between the shooter's mental health and his crime, they have largely ignored a major factor behind the inadequate support and treatment military service members have received for mental health conditions more generally: the vast over-commitment of troops to fight two wars simultaneously for over a decade.
Spec. Ivan Antonia Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life at Fort Hood, TX, on April 2. Lopez served a four-month term in Iraq, though he reportedly did not see combat. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and was in the process of being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD can be triggered by a broad spectrum of emotional and physical traumas, including the loss of a loved one, seeing the after-effects of violence, and experiencing sexual assault, but it is still unclear if Lopez had this condition and the nature of his treatment is largely unknown. An Army psychiatrist who examined Lopez recently reportedly found no "sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others."
Many individuals with PTSD never demonstrate violent behavior, and the likelihood that they will commit mass murder "is extraordinarily small," according to Janice Krupnick, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. (Studies have shown that people with mental health conditions in general are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.)
Again, Lopez's mental health may prove entirely irrelevant to the mass shooting. But a story that has been largely undercovered in the media is how rising rates of depression, suicide, and PTSD in the military relate to the military's over-commitment in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In order to supply enough service members to fight two wars simultaneously, the military abandoned previous regulations and put stress on already limited support systems, causing what commanders refer to as "overstretch."
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Defense Department standards disqualified recruits who suffered from PTSD and hadn't receive treatment. But Army mental health experts acknowledged early on that those standards were being relaxed in light of the troop shortage. The need for more troops to fight both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and meet the Bush administration's specified troop commitment levels -- required Army mental health experts "to weigh the needs of the Army" ahead of the needs of the individuals. The Associated Press reported in 2006 (emphasis added):
Although Defense Department standards for enlistment disqualify recruits who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the military also is redeploying service members to Iraq who fit that criteria, the [Hartford Courant reported].
"I'm concerned that people who are symptomatic are being sent back. That has not happened before in our country," said Dr. Arthur S. Blank, Jr., a Yale-trained psychiatrist who helped to get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder recognized as a diagnosis after the Vietnam War.
The Army's top mental health expert, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, acknowledged that some deployment practices, such as sending service members diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome back into combat, have been driven in part by a troop shortage.
"The challenge for us ... is that the Army has a mission to fight. And, as you know, recruiting has been a challenge," she said. "And so we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission, with the Soldiers' personal needs."
An Army-funded review of the mental health of soldiers who served from 2004 to 2009 found "one in five Army soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting."
And it's not just new recruits. The Washington Post reported that a diagnosis and lack of treatment for PTSD was also no longer "a barrier to being redeployed" for troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that military mental health experts knew for years that redeployment without treatment could drastically increase the risk of damaging mental health conditions. In 2006, a Department of Veteran's Affairs study revealed that within just 30 days of redeployment Army and Marine Corps service members showed higher mental health concerns and higher probable PTSD rates. The risk increases with each additional deployment; one study found that 27 percent of soldiers reported serious combat stress or depression symptoms on their third deployment.
A 2010 PBS Frontline special highlighted how the surge -- in which more than 20,000 additional troops were committed to Iraq in 2007 on top of existing forces -- particularly forced the recruitment and redeployment of troops who would otherwise have been ineligible. The special focused on the Third Platoon, which was sent back to Iraq after only one year at home, and then had their deployment extended to fifteen months. "The military now acknowledges that is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate," PBS reported. "Our ultimate goal is one year deployed, two years home," Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, then-Army vice chief of staff, told PBS. "We have not reached that goal for all units. It's a supply and demand problem. I cannot do anything about the demand. I only have a finite supply. And when the demand goes up, and orders are given, we provide the soldiers."
A decade ago, the Associate Press reported that roughly 1 in 8 returning soldiers suffered from PTSD, according to the Army's first study of the mental health of troops who fought in Iraq. Now estimates place it closer to 2 in 10 -- a 60 percent increase. Suicide rates dipped last year from their alarming highs over the course of the wars. The rate of suicide (which can be sparked by a range of mental health issues) for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009, while the rate for those who never deployed nearly tripled. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.
There is some hope. President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 ordering Veterans Affairs to expand its suicide prevention and mental health services, and the Army has upped the number of mental-health professionals traveling with troops in the field. Following the previous Fort Hood shooting, in 2009, the Defense Department implemented numerous changes, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel remains committed to implementing those improvements in the system.
But according to Defense Department data, about 2.5 million Americans in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 400,000 service members have completed three or more deployments. Nearly 37,000 have been deployed more than five times. An excellent in-depth look at veterans from The Washington Post, published just days before the recent Fort Hood shooting, noted that more than half of the millions who were deployed "struggle with physical or mental health problems stemming from their service."
With those numbers, is it really any wonder that the military has struggled to provide adequate support to Ivan Lopez and others like him?
Image via Flickr user Dave O using a Creative Commons License
From the January 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the new health care law for requiring all new insurance plans to cover essential services such as maternity care and mental health care, ignoring the fact that individuals with these conditions are often discriminated against in the insurance market and that requiring coverage for these services will help the economy and reduce economic insecurity.
On the November 12 edition of Special Report, Powers complained that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans are now required to cover benefits such as maternity care and mental health care, despite the fact that an individual might not ever need to use these services:
POWERS: The idea that they think that 50-year-olds should have maternity care is very concerning to me. You know, people are being forced to pay for things that they will not use. It is not for them to tell people -- I don't need to be told I need to have mental health coverage. If I wanted it, I would have gotten it. And I think people are getting a little fed up, even Democrats, with this stuff.
In fact, without the ACA's requirement that essential health benefits be covered by new insurance plans sold on the exchanges, Powers may not have been able to get mental health coverage or maternity care if she wanted it. Individuals who needed those services before the law's passage were routinely discriminated against while trying to obtain necessary health insurance, by being required to pay significantly more for coverage, left unable to get a plan offering specific coverage, or rejected from health insurance all together.
As CNNMoney explained, previously insurance companies were able to keep costs down for many by offering plans without some essential benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, and cherry picking "among applicants to only pick the healthiest ones." The New York Times reported that in 2011, "62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage," and a Washington Post columnist explained that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 20 percent of people currently in the individual market have "no coverage for mental-health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization." (Approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health condition per year, and half of all Americans will experience one in their lifetime.) Many individual market insurance plans did not offer these services.
The entire concept behind the Affordable Care Act was to change this, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their personal finances or current health states, could have access to quality, comprehensive health insurance that covered their needs. The law thus mandates ten essential health benefits -- including maternity care and some mental health services -- that all new insurance plans must include at minimum for every American.
Powers' argument also ignored that requiring insurance companies to cover these essential services in all health plans has significant economic benefits.
The Wall Street Journal attacked the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Medicaid expansion by claiming that Medicaid beneficiaries would have better health outcomes with no insurance at all. But the Journal's analysis relies on an inaccurate reading of an Oregon health care study and ignores that Medicaid has been shown to lower rates of depression, reduce financial strain, and benefits low-income children, mothers, and veterans.
Fox News' Martha MacCallum scapegoated individuals with mental health conditions by suggesting that increased institutionalization is a solution to mass shootings, ignoring the dangers that poses to individuals with these conditions and the need for greater gun safety.
On the September 19 America's Newsroom, MacCallum suggested that Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooting suspect, should have been institutionalized for a mental health condition, asking if we have "become so PC that we do not understand" the need to institutionalize some "categories of people." She also criticized the medical system for only institutionalizing people who have previously been convicted of a crime:
Have we not become so PC that we do not understand that there are categories of people -- many people who do not deserve to be institutionalized, but some do. And if this man had been institutionalized, something that we, you know, seem to never do any more in this country -- in fact, Adam Lanza's mother, according to the reports after Newtown, wanted to institutionalize her son. She was worried that he would do something. But unless you have been convicted, you cannot be institutionalized. So what do we do about this?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Alexis never reported that he was depressed or that he was considering harming himself or others prior to the shooting. He sought treatment solely for insomnia. Doctors said he was "alert and oriented" and never asked for an appointment with VA mental health specialists.
MacCallum's solution raises as many questions as it answers, most critically who gets institutionalized and when.
Institutions, or psychiatric hospitals, can play a role in treatment for people with severe mental health conditions, but they are not the most effective solution in every case.
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration had done little to address issues of mental health following recent mass shootings, hiding the fact that gun violence prevention legislation backed by President Obama included mental health provisions and that the president has signed multiple measures aimed at increasing Americans' access to mental health services.
On September 17, President Obama called on Congress to strengthen background checks for gun purchases following the mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard by a former Navy reservist who had clearance to access the base as a civilian contractor and who had passed a background check to purchase the gun he brought with him.
On September 18, Fox & Friends criticized the call for stronger gun laws following the tragedy, with co-host Brian Kilmeade saying "the focus really should be on mental illness" and accusing doctors of letting dangerous individuals out "wild in society." Co-host Steve Doocy then criticized President Obama over the tragedy, saying that "[a]fter the Newtown massacre, what did the President of the United States say? He said his administration, quote, 'would bring mental illness out of the shadows.' What have they done so far? They've had a conference in June. Nothing has happened."
Doocy and Kilmeade's fixation on mental health as the solution to gun violence is misplaced, as studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. In fact, 96 percent of violent crimes "are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all."
But Doocy was also wrong: Obama and Senate Democrats have supported gun violence prevention legislation which addressed mental health issues, and Obama has signed multiple measures to increase access to mental health services for those who need them.