New at “Yikes!…”: NJTV stigmatizes NAMI Mercer Board Member Robert Hedden

NAMI Mercer Board Member Robert Hedden (l) with NJ Gov. Chris Christie at yesterday's Catholic Charities supportive housing roundtable in Trenton.

NAMI Mercer Board Member Robert Hedden (l) with NJ Gov. Chris Christie at yesterday’s Catholic Charities supportive housing roundtable in Trenton.

Here in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie yesterday visited Trenton’s Catholic Charities to recognize both the successes of its supportive housing program for loved ones with psychiatric disabilities and the challenges of addictions of some within its programs. The event was covered by many New Jersey media outlets, including the state’s very own public television station, NJTV.

To accompany its video footage, NJTV posted a news article of the event to its website. One of the quoted subjects was Mr. Robert Hedden, a personal friend of PsychOdyssey and a mental health advocate and community leader in the Trenton, NJ, area.

While performing a general public service by reporting on an important event at Catholic Charities, NJTV unfortunately did a serious disservice to Mr. Hedden, a disclosed non-addicted mental health services consumer with a serious and persistent psychiatric disability, with a disparaging description of him as “a behavioral health patient”. Such a descriptor created the kind of needless and insensitive stigma that too often confronts our loved ones with psychiatric disabilities.

To address this matter, PsychOdyssey’s Tom Pyle wrote the following message to NJTV:


Attn: Mr. Michael Hill, Correspondent

Thank you for reporting Gov. Christie’s visit to Catholic Charities. Good news about success stories in New Jersey’s public mental healthcare system are most appreciated.

I note, however, your description of my friend and colleague, Mr. Robert Hedden, a Catholic Charities supportive housing client and fellow board member of NAMI Mercer,  as a “behavioral health patient”.

While surely not intentionally so on your part, this is a stigmatizing characterization of Mr. Hedden and other New Jerseyans like him. While not widely acknowledged or understood, stigma against fellow citizens with psychiatric disabilities is often one of the most pernicious forms of social bigotry against a class of people (and their families) as exists in our country today.

Robert has done our local community a great service in disclosing his personal psychiatric disability, thus helping us all better understand the challenges all loved ones with psychiatric disabilities face. He also well represents a supportive housing success story of how a fellow citizen with a serious psychiatric disability, with proper supports and community integration, can not only live, but thrive in spite of such a challenge. He is a vigorous and vibrant fellow citizen and local community leader who happens to have a psychiatric disability, not a “behavioral patient”, which conjures a disparaging image of a helpless, pathetic crazy person in a hospital gown or, worse, straitjacket. All of us who work with him are so grateful for his leadership, as we are for his inspiring model of personal recovery.

We New Jerseyans are fortunate to have NJTV as  a media leader for our state. Your coverage of such events and the way you describe them are critical not only to learning of the good work being done in our public mental health system, but also in guiding and correctly framing the public’s understanding of them and those like Mr. Hedden who are its success stories. With great appreciation for the good reporting you and the whole NJTV team undertake every day, let me gently but firmly request that you and your team do all you can with your descriptors to portray our loved ones with psychiatric disabilities as the heroes they truly are, and not diminish their dignity with stigmatizing, diminutive, and incorrect appellations such as “patients”.

With best wishes,


Tom Pyle

Princeton, NJ

Member, NJ Behavioral Health Planning Council

Board Member, NAMI Mercer

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One Response to New at “Yikes!…”: NJTV stigmatizes NAMI Mercer Board Member Robert Hedden

  1. Thank you for covering this issue. I was invited to participate in this event as a person living successfully with a treatable mental health condition and receiving behavioral healthcare. It was my intention to bring awareness that those affected by mental illnesses are as I stated just “average, normal, everyday people” and “not what is portrayed in the media.” I then went on to express that those often portrayed in the media are what can happen when one does not get the right mental health treatment.

    Stigma and ignorance are two leading factors for individuals and family members of loved ones affected by mental illness in not seeking proper help. We have something great going on with integrated healthcare initiatives in New Jersey. However, all this greatness was overshadowed by the dark cloud of stigma by being referred to as a “patient.”

    For some at that forum, I may have only been a “patient” but to my numerous family, friends and colleagues I am much more. I am a beloved son, brother, uncle and caring friend who just happens to live with a mental health disorder and receiving excellent treatment for such. I have been open about my mental health treatment to give a voice to those whom are silenced by stigma, much like the stigma that occurred in this article.

    To all those referred to as “patients” please know you are not alone. It takes a great deal of patience to deal with ignorance on such a consistent basis. We live in a world where our media only perpetuates stigma by showcasing negative stories of those whom are ill and not receiving proper treatment. Rarely if ever are people like me doing well given the opportunity to portray mental wellness instead of the illness aspect.

    I have devoted my entire life to service and helping others. I once said that I did not care what people called me as long as they called me. This incident has made me re-think this lighthearted comment and realize how harmful words can be. We must not only improve our healthcare system but also on how we treat each and every human being in and out of this sytem. It is my goal to do so with the utmost dignity and respect.

    Robert T. Hedden
    Board Member, National Alliance on Mental Illness Mercer County NJ

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