19 November 2013

Letter to Professor Richard E. Vatz


Link to original article at bottom of page.

Dear Professor Vatz,

Reading your article printed in yesterday’s Washington Times, I was quite alarmed that a man of your expertise would publish a piece that effectively served to reinforce the stigma that surrounds persons suffering from mental illnesses.

As a man who has been diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, I have recently dedicated my entire life to fighting stigma and combating the kind of unfounded ignorance you demonstrated in your piece.

When you suggest that people who suffer from a mental health disorder do not have a “genuine medical illness,” this statement alone makes apparent to me two things — you have never seen a family member or loved one battle with a mental disorder, and also that you’re unaware of the medical data which proves otherwise. By creating such a premise and not critically thinking through your motivations, you insult 26.6 million Americans who, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, have suffered from a mental health disorder in the last 12 months.

Another thing I find troublesome is that you seem to suggest that there should not be an ‘insanity’ plea available to the mental ill who commits a crime because of his her medical disorder. If someone experiences his or her first epileptic seizure while operating a motor vehicle and subsequently kills another driver, should this person be charged for a crime? Then why would you throw the book at someone, who because of an illness, hurts another individual? These people need help, not to be thrown into a cage and be further stigmatized, increasing the likelihood that they will continue to experience problems down the line.

What has happened in the last 50 years? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, we as a nation have reduced our psychiatric hospital beds from 550,000 to less than 50,000 all the while increasing a mentally ill prison population to over 1.2 million. Is this a way for a civilized society to act?

Furthermore, toward the end of your article, you suggest that the cost will “skyrocket” if people seek the help they need, and that we will become a “nation of victims.” Outpatient services in my home state of South Carolina cost taxpayers $2,400 per year. But incarceration costs $17,500. If people do not have the services available to get the help they need, the overall cost can easily be ten times greater over the long run.

It also appears that you have no room in your heart for life, when you recognize that 90 percent of suicides, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are committed by people who have mental health diagnoses. Yes, mental illness kills more people on an annual basis than car accidents and almost as many as breast cancer.

Finally, I am truly surprised that an academic such as yourself would print such an article that only serves to perpetuate the very crux of the problem. You suggest in your summary that we cannot afford the social or literal cost of this cultural change. I will take my last breath defending my belief that there is no way we can afford NOT to change.

I am asking you to retract this letter immediately, and if not, I would gladly challenge you to a debate on this subject. I am currently scheduled to be in Washington, D.C. to testify before the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues on Dec. 18, if you could make that time work.

With truth and sincerity,
Paton Blough

Original Article Posted in the Washington Times – Click Here to Read

About Rehinge

Rehinge exists to provide hope, education, and spiritual inspiration for all people affected with mental health issues and to fight stigma while pushing for global mental health reform.

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One thought on “Letter to Professor Richard E. Vatz

  1. So sad Mr. Vatz, years later you are still on the same page when it comes to suicide.

    How dare you exploit Robin William’s death, in the negative fashion you did. Not only did he suffer from depression, but it came out months after your lovely article appeared, that Robin also suffered with dementia. As for dear, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, once again you make it clear how uneducated and ignorant one can be.

    You may want to reread my post that was written to you in 2011. You were angry over losing someone so tragically to suicide in your own family, not to mention, still heartless.

    IMPORTANT! Please take note in the Professor’s article, he made the following comment, which makes us wonder if he has children and questions his lack of compassion. “A healthy, relatively young person who kills himself or herself has committed an unethical act, truly unforgivable.” This sounds like academia ignorance.

    Lisa Hurka Covington’s reply to Professor Vatz in 2011.

    Professor Vatz,
    I would like to begin by saying I am very sorry you lost a loved one by suicide. I was the lady who commented on the Ron Smith Radio Show, September 2, 2011. I to was touched by suicide, I lost my twenty eight year old sister, Laura, died by gunshot to the chest, twenty years ago. Please note, my sister and all the beautiful people who died by suicide, including your loved one, DID NOT commit a crime. These people entered a dark tunnel, unfortunately not seeing the light at the end, they wanted their pain to end, not always their lives. Many were depressed, or had an illness that couldn’t be seen, mental illness.

    Immediately after my sister’s death, I became vocal in the area of suicide prevention which has been a challenge, so many secrets, people acting as if they would never lose a person in their life so tragically. Suicide has no boundaries, it happens in all walks of life. For every two homicides, there are three suicides in the US. For every completed suicide, there are approximately 100 to 200 attempts, 18 veterans are killing themselves each day.

    Today, I am the Founder/Executive Director of SPEAK (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids), http://www.speakforthem.org., spokesperson for suicide prevention in Maryland, Nationally known, and sit on The Governor’s Commission for Suicide Prevention in Maryland. No one is exempt from suicide, it makes no different who we are, prominent, poor, etc. Even I traveled down that slippery path, so many walked, before ending their lives. How blessed I was, I learned all the correct steps taken from my many years of experience. I knew the warning signs, had the support needed, but most importantly, knew how to ask for help and admitted I was depressed/suicidal, which was very difficult, (especially for men). At the time I was suicidal, I wanted my pain and heartache to vanish, I did not want to hurt any of my loved ones. There were only glimpses of their faces that flashed before me. Anyone can cross a fine line in one split second, that is why it is important we get education and awareness accessible to the public, especially in today’s economy. When speaking to audiences, I now see both sides of the coin.

    Forgiveness is the most precious gift, one can receive in a life time. Forgiveness of self, family, friends, coworkers, living or deceased. Professor, I am very disappointed in your statement, A healthy, relatively young person who kills himself or herself has committed an unethical act, truly unforgivable. I now would like to turn the tables and play Professor. Children as young as five are killing themselves. In Maryland alone, we lost 75 precious young people by suicide in 2010. The figure is much higher, many suicides are not reported due to stigma, insurance purposes or they are reported as an accident/crashing into a tree. One suicide is one to many. One life touches thousands, and it is critical we help loved ones left behind to grieve in a healthy fashion so they can move on in their lives and not look back years later as you are, being negative, which is very unhealthy.

    To Mrs. Flanagan, her daughters, family, and to Mr. Flanagan’s Oriole family, from the players to his fans, Mr. Flanagan has brought such joy to so many, cherish the memories. Mr. Flanagan rest in peace.

    Lisa Hurka Covington