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Friday, December 15, 2017

He had his first major breakdown when he was 26.

A man who had been known for his sunny, outgoing temperament became suddenly sullen, silent and withdrawn. He spoke openly of suicide. It got so bad that a couple took him into their home to ensure he did not hurt himself.

His second breakdown was a few years later. He could not get out of bed. He lost weight and became emaciated. Again, he talked about killing himself. One friend was alarmed enough to confiscate all his razors.

“I am now the most miserable man living,” the depressed man wrote. “If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth.”

Luckily for him, Abraham Lincoln did not write those words to Tom Sullivan. Sullivan, a Fox “News” Radio host, hasn’t much patience for claims of mental disability. At least, not to judge from his dismissal last week of a caller who told him she has bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, Sullivan retorted, is “the latest fad. … 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.” The affliction, added Sullivan, is “something made up by the mental health business” in order to soak their patients.

If you are tempted to buy into those ignorant natterings, please be advised: Bipolar disorder, once known as manic depression, is one of the oldest diagnoses in psychiatry. It was first described in 1854 by French doctors Jules Baillarger (who dubbed it “la folie a double forme” or “dual-form insanity”) and Jean-Pierre Falret, (who called it “folie circulaire,” or “circular insanity”). Both described it as an affliction characterized by moods that cycled wildly between mountain highs and oceanic lows. So bipolar disorder is hardly a fad.

But our concern here is not just Sullivan’s dismissal of one woman’s mental illness but, rather, an emerging narrative that seems to question the very idea of mental illness. That was the subtext of Senator Rand Paul’s claim last month that many people are “gaming” disability programs, though they suffer nothing more incapacitating than anxiety. Then there’s one Neil Munro, “reporter” for a right-wing website, who in 2013 accused doctors of inventing new mental illnesses for profit. He claimed that we have pathologized “stress” and “sadness,” made diseases out of ordinary moods that need no treatment more exotic than good old American “stoicism,” “hard work” and “personal initiative.”

The anti-science Know-Nothingism of the political right has seldom seemed more dangerous. In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, the Columbine massacre, the Navy Yard massacre, the Binghamton massacre, the Tucson massacre, the Aurora massacre, it is grotesque to deny the reality of mental illness or stigmatize those who seek help as somehow lacking in stoicism. And it is staggering that, according to USA Today, as states impose drastic cuts on mental health services, 40 percent of those with severe mental illness receive no treatment. So by what logic do these people discourage those who need help from getting it?

Even Lincoln knew he needed treatment — and sought it. Granted, the options available to his doctor — bleeding, quinine, purgatives, black pepper drinks — would not have done much good. But the point is, the future president felt it no reflection on his character to seek help when he needed it.

“If I be in pain,” wrote Lincoln, who would suffer depression — what Munro trivializes as “sadness” — most of his life, “I wish to let you know it and to ask your sympathy and assistance…” Yet so modern and enlightened are we, 150 years later, that some of us deny not only sympathy and assistance but even illness itself. Suck it up, the radio host tells the woman with bipolar disorder.

Now that’s insane.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at

Screenshot: Fox Business Channel

18 Responses to Mental Disability Is Not A Fad

  1. I have watched, for many years, the pain my neighbors go through with their son. Until he was 12, he was just like any other kid. Then he became schizophrenic. They spent a lot of money, they didn’t have, to get him treated. They heard of a treatment center for schizophrenic disorders and took out a second mortgage on their house to send him there. It didn’t work. The son is now in his sixties and warehoused. BTW, they are Republicans so it does happen in the Republican sector, too. However, they are civilized Republicans and not hateful.

  2. Yep, my autistic son just needs to “suck it up” to get along better with everyone else.
    Yes, that surely will work, why didn’t I think of that?

    • Paul, Not to be nosey, but was your son born autistic or did it occur later in his childhood? For the record, I do not believe that vaccines are necessarily the cause of the increased number of autism cases, but something out there is the cause. There are far too many stories of kids “becoming” autistic versus being born that way.

      • In retrospect, born that way.
        Though since he was my first born, I just thought he was odd for the 1st ~ 4 years. too bad, early intervention is proven most effective.
        Best scientific evidence suggest either 4 or 5 genes (likely recessive) between the two parents AND likely an environmental “stressor” occurring to the Mother at about 30 to 45 days after conception.
        But heck, we lived in Houston, the air might be the “stressor”!

        • Shoot, just living in Texas would be a valid cause!! I was born there, and my parents got me out of there when I was 3 months (thank GOD for brilliant parents).

      • I’ve read a couple of articles in science journals that question whether the “environment” could be a cause of autism. Back in the 50’s, when I was growing up, we didn’t have the same environmental problems we have now….you rarely, if ever, heard of someone with autism. Kinda makes you wonder if what we’re doing to our environment has something to do with this problem. Whatever it is…it certainly ISN’T vaccinations!

  3. Yes, my daughter who went through abuse as a child, has bi-polar due to problems in society, there are days when she doesn’t think she will survive, but, SHE MUST SUCK IT UP to make this KNOW IT ALL happy.

  4. Sullivan just another example of a long list of bad media pundit’s. I simply do not understand why people continuously infest their brains with the garbage that’s put out everyday. I do miss the old day’s when they only reported the news and left opinions to the individual. Now, we have large groups that are pandered to with constant lies and misinformation. I refer to these groups as “parrotmonkey’s” because they believe the garbage they’re fed and then repeat it (parrot). When someone disagrees they get all crappy and throw poop (monkey) we all call personal insults and attacks. Yesterday was a prime example of people not reading before they make idiot’s of themselves and start slinging poop.

  5. Sad to say, I think Sullivan got his start in my area of northern CA. What a terrible, idiotic thing to say about mental illness. He obviously doesn’t have anyone close to him who suffers with it or he wouldn’t make such uneducated remarks. I can only hope that the backlash puts his job in jeopardy.

  6. Sullivan’s remarks aren’t insane. They are callous and uneducated. My twin brother was diagnosed as bipolar with schizophrenia about 20 years ago He has deeply troubling difficulties dealing with daily occurrences of unfairness he sees around him. He’s been arrested and hospitalized on numerous occasions because of the violent reactions he has to bullying by police or rudeness by others. The medications make him zombie like. I’ve had to talk him down from suicide more times than I can count. He can’t work because of his condition. He gets a disability check for $884 each month, and can barely survive. He’s not gaming the system.

  7. While we toss around terms & slogans, we rarely get enough professionals to weigh in on such debates. As such, it doesn’t take much to figure we’re a nation of PTSD’d victims of brutality & neglect, by our national government & its appointee’s. When we select persons to representative office, the very least we should expect is that they live by the oaths they swear to & keep their words they campaign upon. We’re going on exactly 14 years where we have lacked an (national) administration & state & local governments that have had the intelligence or knowledge or courage or any one of the three combined, to execute government according to our mandates itemized in the Declaration, Constitution or the Bill of Rights. None now have any significance, having been twisted, warped & distorted by a freakish, horrific accident of fate, delivered by judicial appointees-turned political derelicts, one night in December, 2000…

  8. A right-wing radio host is not someone that I would give a lot of power to….they are just paid idiots at some stations….sprouting their right wing boss’ BS!! They are not credible in any way, shape, or form. As for the woman he was talking to, I wish her well. Being bi-polar does not sound like a really “fun” thing to me! I’ve been through a short-term depressive state, and it is not the best thing to deal with. Luckily enough, I had doctors who cared, and I’m not feeling fantastic!

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