Helping Calm A Delusional Passenger: A Peer Specialist Comes To the Rescue


Mental Illness Crisis at 35,000 Feet

By Gabe Howard

When I saw the young woman reach for the cockpit door on a recent cross-country flight, I knew there was going to be trouble.

 A few moments earlier, I had watched her come down the aisle to use the lavatory at the rear of the aircraft near where I was sitting. She tried to open its door but couldn’t. She tried again.

 A flight attendant noticed and told her the bathroom was occupied and that she would need to wait her turn.

 The woman insisted the door was just stuck and kept struggling with it.

 I was sitting close enough to see the woman’s eyes and what I saw troubled me.  Total anxiety. The fear and confusion radiating off her was as clear as day to me because I had experienced panic and anxiety attacks.

 The flight attendant suggested she try the rest room in the front of the aircraft. The woman started to cry, gasp for air, and whimper unintelligibly, as she returned up the aisle.

Mental Illness can cause confusion.  This confusion, coupled with desperation and fear, can lead to frightening outcomes. When she reached the front, she started to grab various handles in an attempt to gain entry to the bathroom. One of those handles was the cockpit door.

Click to continue…

Join Me Tuesday Night Speaking About RESILIENCE


If you live in the Fairfax County area, please join me Tuesday night for an informal talk about RESILIENCE, the book that I helped Jessie Close write about her struggles with addiction and bi-polar disorder.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Meet the Author: Pete Earley
Cascades Library  21030 Whitfield Pl, Potomac Falls, VA 20165
Tuesday, May 19, 7:00 pm
Pete Earley will discuss his new book, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, written in collaboration with Jessie Close. The book tells of the Close sisters’ journey; from a cult school in Switzerland, to the Belgian Congo where their father became a surgeon in the war ravaged republic, to boarding school in the US, where Jessie first started to exhibit symptoms of severe bipolar disorder (she would later learn that this ran in the family, a well-kept secret). Through a series of destructive marriages, Glenn was always by Jessie’s side and it was not until Jessie’s son Calen entered McLean’s psychiatric hospital that Jessie herself was diagnosed. Fifteen years and twelve years of sobriety later, Jessie is a stable and productive member of society.
Book sale and signing to follow.

Two Everyday Incidents Reveal How Sick Individuals End Up In Jail When They Need Help

Restraint Chair Similar To One Used At Jail

Restraint Chair Similar To One Used At Jail

A 27 year-old man, who we will call Charles, was trying to kill himself when workers at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Falls Church intervened. He began hitting them. The state police were called and Charles was taken from the residential treatment center to the jail, charged with five counts of misdemeanor simple assault.

This is the same Fairfax detention center where Natasha McKenna, a 37 year-old woman with schizophrenia died after being shot with a 50,000 volt taser four times while in shackles with her head hooded.

Charles was booked into jail on April 28th. He had a long history of suicide attempts.

Two days later, April 30th, Charles began hitting his head against the cell wall. He was put into a padded cell and then strapped into a restraint chair.

On May 1st, deputies decided he was calm enough to move him into a single cell, but Charles began threatening suicide and so on May 2nd, he was put back in the restraint chair. On May 3rd, he was calm enough to return to his cell.

Click to continue…

My Son Shares His Recovery Story: Becomes Emotional Talking About The Plight Of Others

Green Door, a Washington D.C. mental health organization, honored Kevin and me last week at its fund-raising gala. During his four-minute acceptance speech, Kevin became emotional as he described his remarkable journey to recovery. I remember a time when my son, who was called Mike in my book, was shot by the police with a taser, hogtied, and taken to a mental health center. I wondered if this would be our future. Fortunately, Kevin finally got the help that he needed to succeed and now is doing well working as a peer-to-peer specialist.

When Kevin was at his sickest, I was grateful to individuals with mental illnesses who were brave enough to tell their stories. Many gave me hope. I am now thrilled and proud that Kevin is one of those story tellers.

A few days after the gala, Kevin participated in the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s  31 Days, 31 Stories — Stepping Up Initiative.

Thank you Kevin for fighting stigma by speaking so passionately in public. It is, indeed, an incredible journey that we are on together.

Click to continue…

Washington Post Hungry For Villains: Sheriff Responds to Criticism, Says Real Problem Is Jailing Mentally Ill

NEWSHERIFF_011386966306The Washington Post has published several editorials criticizing Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid because of the death of Natasha McKenna, a 37 year-old woman with schizophrenia who died shorty after being shot with a taser four times while being held in the county detention center. Her death is still being investigated by the Fairfax Police Department.

I met with Sheriff Kincaid recently and she gave me a copy of a written response that she had submitted to the Post after it published two editorials. The paper declined to publish her letter. Here is her response to the Post.


By Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid

It’s not every day the Editorial Page actually makes news instead of simply commenting on it, but the Post has managed to do that with its call (April 22) for civil disobedience to replace the justice system and attempt to prejudice the process of an active, independent legal investigation. In your editorial, “The Outrageous Death of a Fairfax County Inmate” (April 14), you demand immediate accountability, transparency and action in response to the incident in advance of the completion of an investigation by the Police Department, and any ultimate decision by the Commonwealth Attorney. You also accuse me, in particular, of withholding information. I must respond because I know justice ultimately will be done in this case, and also in the interest of journalistic fairness. There also is a teachable moment here, not only for those of us who have dedicated our lives to law enforcement but also for members of the community who believe in dignity and fairness for those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.


Click to continue…

Recovery Colleges, Not Asylums: Looking Into The Past For Solutions

Virgil-StuckerThe current debate about bringing back mental asylums made me wonder what Virgil Stucker, the founding executive director and president of the CooperRiis Healing Community in North Carolina might think. He was kind enough to offer his thoughts. 

Think of the Modern Asylum as a ‘Recovery College’

By Virgil Stucker

The notion of ‘bringing back the asylum’ for individuals with overwhelming mental health challenges has been stirring debate. There are multiple points of contention, some of which lead us down unproductive and confused paths. We rightly bristle when we think of the abuse that the asylums of old caused. Let’s hit the pause button and acknowledge that none of us seeks to bring back those abusive systems.

We also bristle at the notion of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel who seems to think that as many as 500,000 in the US are mentally broken and simply need humane, permanent containment. What I hear him saying is that no matter what we do, some of society’s most vulnerable appear unable to conduct their lives successfully on their own. This may be true for ‘some’ but not for 500,000. Nor should we assume that permanent containment and separation from society should be the starting point for anyone.

All of us also agree that we should do better than simply containing our most vulnerable in prison and jails (about 600,000 with mental health diagnoses). Also none of us thinks that it is OK simply to allow them to roam the streets or simply to chemically contain them via the overuse of medications. We continue to hope that we can develop and improve systems that will help our most vulnerable to recover their capacities for independent and successful living.

Click to continue…