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TRAGEDY, SAFETY IN MENTAL HEALTH SETTINGS

Assumptions about violence show bias against mentally ill

August 17, 2011

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AS AN attorney, professor, and author whose life has been spent fighting prejudice against people with mental illness, I was dismayed to see the Globe editorial board descend to policy by anecdote in its paired Aug. 12 editorials “In fining mental-health provider, OSHA sends a strong message’’ and “. . . and protect safety of elderly, too.’’

First, the Globe recommends criminal background checks of residents of group homes, explaining that “past violence shows a capacity for future violence.’’ True enough - let’s have criminal checks for all people applying for rental housing. There is no evidence that all mentally ill people, simply because of their mental illness, are more violent.

The next editorial is even worse, questioning the policy of allowing people with mental disabilities (but not physical disabilities) to live in senior housing. Some of my clients have benefited enormously from this policy - smart, sweet women who, despite devastating depression, support and comfort their elderly neighbors. They better represent the overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness, who suffer more from their disabilities than most of us can imagine.

On the basis of a few individual tragedies, the Globe has added needlessly to their suffering by endorsing barriers to life in the community on the basis of a disability which, by itself, bears no relationship to violence. The positions taken in your editorial are as baseless and prejudiced as advocating a return to segregated public housing because one black man killed one white man.

Susan Stefan
Rutland
The writer is on the human rights committee at Worcester State Hospital.