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Shelf Life: A Criminally Insane System

Forget the sensational headlines about the mentally ill. The truth is in the alternative media.

by Danielle Maestretti

Based on what the mainstream media and an ever-growing spate of TV crime shows have to say about mental illness, one could easily sketch a sinister profile of the average specimen: He's a murder convict, schizophrenic or perhaps bipolar, who snapped after he went off his meds and brutally killed someone with a baseball bat or an apple corer. Oh, and don't forget the takeaway lesson: Why was he roaming the streets in the first place? He should have been in a hospital somewhere.

"The fact is that the mentally ill are rarely violent and contribute very little to overall violence in the United States," writes psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman in "The Politics of Mental Illness," an outstanding 24-page special report in the July-August issue of the American Prospect. But it's easy to see why this myth needs dispelling: Friedman points to a 2005 study of 70 major newspapers that found that 39 percent of stories about mentally ill people "focused on dangerousness."

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