Letter to the Editor: Regarding the Coverage of Mental Illness in the New York Times

Below is a Letter to the Editor submitted to the New York Times regarding an article published in April 2021. As anticipated, the New York Times did not select this letter for publication. We the authors believe this issue is of paramount importance and have chosen to self-publish for distribution to our networks and beyond. Please contact lgonzales@adelphi.edu if you are interested in signing onto this statement. All voices are welcome, including individuals with and without lived experience and mental health professionals and non-professionals.

To the Editor:

We write regarding the article published on April 7th, 2021 entitled “Behind New York Attacks, a Brew of Racial Bias and Mental Illness.” We are members of the professional clinician/researcher, family member, peer/lived experience, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

We are appalled by the spate of violent bias crimes targeting members of the AAPI community. However, these bias crimes are the result of hateful ideology that is unrelated to mental illness. Research supports the presence of persistent and significant negative bias in reporting regarding mental illness across news media. Further, media reports of the presumed association between mental illness and violence increase public stigma and cause harm to people diagnosed with mental illnesses, who themselves are at heightened risk of violent victimization.

This article was particularly harmful as its primary “hook” is the suggestion that mental illness is a main driver of racial violence. It suggests that hate crimes could be avoided by placing potential perpetrators forcibly into mental health treatment and therefore releases the purveyors of racist ideologies from responsibility. Racism is not a mental illness, and this repeated linkage in media outlets only exacerbates negative stereotypes while ignoring the larger structural system of racial injustice that encourages individual acts of hatred, as well as the sociopolitical context impacting mental health, including racism itself. We are further disappointed that the authors of this article spoke to one of us in their reporting, but disregarded our guidance — we assume this is because it did not fit into this problematic narrative.

The New York Times can do better. Such reporting is dehumanizing and perpetuates the marginalization of a large proportion of the population.

Lauren Gonzales (Adelphi University)

Philip Yanos (John Jay College)

Jessie Roth (Institute for the Development of the Human Arts)

Claire Bien (Institute for the Development of the Human Arts, International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (ISPS-US), Hearing Voices Network-USA, Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health)

Rebecca Hatton, PsyD, LP

Murphy Halliburton, PhD (Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY)

Sally Riggs, DClinPsy, ACT (Private Practice)

Patrick Corrigan (Illinois Institute of Technology)

Lauren O’Connor (John Jay College)

Joseph DeLuca (John Jay College)

Jennifer Hanley, DNP

Beth Vayshenker

Candice Alaska (The Not Okay Movement)

Michelle West, PhD

Aaron P. Brinen, PsyD (Vanderbilt University Medical Center)

Yulia Mikhailova

Brittany Griffith, LICSW (North American Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis Network, EMDR International Association)

Alia Warner, PhD, ABPP (University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston)

Mahesh Menon, PhD (University of British Columbia)

Jennifer Gottlieb, Ph.D. (Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School)

Lorraine McKenzie MSW, LCSW (Clinician, Team Lead, Young Adult Behavioral Health, First Episode of Psychosis Program, PeaceHealth Hospital, Eugene, OR)

Benjamin Cooley Hall, PsyD, MDiv

Susan Chapel (Rochester Institute of Technology)

Kathy Flaherty (Connecticut Legal Rights Project)

Paul Acker

Keep the Promise Coalition

Maura Sheil-Hughes

Dyana Hagen, BSW (Co-Chair, Keep the Promise Coalition)

The National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA)

Kwamena Blankson (NARPA President)

Laura Ziegler

Tamar Lavy, MD, ABIHM

Sarah Kopelovich

Laura López-Aybar

Barbara Albert

Lauren Kois (University of Alabama)

Lauren Gonzales, PhD is a psychology researcher, clinician, and advocate who studies sociopolitical influences on mental health.