The Importance of Speaking Out!

A mother wrote to me four years ago about her adult son who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had refused to take his medication.  The apartment where he lived was in shambles and he was in horrific shape. Despite everything that she did, he refused to get help. He sunk deeper and deeper into a mental abyss. 
Because he was not dangerous, there was nothing she could do.
 Many of us have been in this woman’s shoes. I get emails and phone calls weekly from frantic parents who have heard about my book and want help with their children. 
I remember writing the mother an encouraging note and occassionally wondering what had happened to her and her son.  Well, this week I heard back from her.
I asked if I could put part of her note on my blog and she agreed. 
 I just want to tell you how, I believe, that you helped to get my son into treatment that he has steadfastly resisted for these many years. I think I told you of the difficult time I have had to get him to cooperate and to take his medicine correctly for his bi-polar. After he became diabetic too, he was just as much in denial and un-cooperative. I was paying for his apartment and knew he was not taking care of himself. However, he would refuse all of my offers to help him wash his clothes, clean his apartment or any other assistance. His siblings were, also, turned down. He withdrew from all of us.
 Finally, I came to the conclusion that it would only be when he hit “rock bottom” that he MIGHT want help. The day before I was to leave on a trip, he called me and asked for help. On my return, I got him into an assisted living home. He is now 100% better. His diabetes is under control and he is very stable with the bi-polar.  I don’t know where we go from here but I am happy, for now, that he is clean and well cared for.
 In cleaning his extremely dirty apartment, I came across a little cache of newspaper clippings and papers  that he had been carrying in his pockets for some time. All these years he had avoided reading anything that I have suggested to learn more about his illness. He didn’t even want to hear the words mental illness and would get mad at me any time I mentioned it. He had been carrying an article that you had written concerning a doughnut business somewhere that was stigmatizing to the mentally ill. The article was so greasy and worn that I could barely read it but I could see you had written it and you told of your son’s illness and your struggle to get help for him. The main thing I think that caught his attention was that mental illnesses should be accepted as any other illness of the body without the shame and stigma surrounding it.
  I don’t  know what brought him to his senses but I really think your article helped to get him to where he is now.
  It is flattering to think that something I wrote encouraged her son. But the reason why I am sharing this mother’s email is not because I want to brag. Rather it is to make a point. The article that her son was carrying appeared in USA TODAY and can be read here.
 I complained in it about a California business named Psycho Donuts which made fun of persons with mental illnesses. I wrote the editorial because I wanted to speak out against stigma. The thought that a man in his 60s with a mental illness might read the article and it might help him seek treatment never entered my mind.
 And that’s the point.
 We often don’t know the impact of our actions when we speak out on behalf of persons with mental illnesses, fight stigma, or call for mental health reforms. We don’t know how our words may affect someone else — even years after we have spoken them.
 This is why we need to continue to talk and write about these issues even when it seems that no one may be listening.  Remember, you may never know who you are helping when you speak out — and you will never help anyone if you assume no one is listening and miss an opportunity by remaining silent.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • brenda smith

    Our son was just shot by a fairfax county police officer after i called moble crisis and the police to come to the house and take him to MT Vernon hospital the papers were signed and after several hours the one police officer decided to use his gun at close range and shoot my son in the chest twice and the stomach and he is in critical care at fairfax hospital right now this happened early friday morning feb 5th. the officer had a police dog and a tazer gun and my son came out paranoid from his bedroom with an empty toy bb gun in his hand please help us stop this abuse of mentally ill people our son has been hospitalized at least 7 times and we have used the mobile crisis in woodburn each time this was just uncalled for and our family is shattered Ian
    smith is fighting for his life as I write this to you we live on 2521 fallon drive in herndon virginia thank you so much

  • beckijackson

    Ms. Smith- yours is every parent of a child with mental illness' worst nightmare. I am so very sorry for you and Ian. How many times does this have to happen before there is REFORM? My heart and prayers are with you.
    Mother of a 22 year old son with mental illness

  • I am so sorry to hear this. I will keep your son in my prayers. My sister is schizophrenic and sometimes the police make the wrong decisions when she is having an episode. I am so sorry.

  • donnamwilson

    Idaho Department of Corrections is taking the national lead in making sure the mentally ill offenders get treatment rather than warehousing them in jails and prisons. Their Mental Health and Drug Courts do not necessarily exclude violent offenders from programs. Each IDOC commit gets a psychiatric examination not just an interview to determine if there are underlying mental illness that could be the instigator of the problems. And there are no restrictions on medications. Our son got in trouble with the law here in Montana at age 16 that was directly due to his mental illness of ADHD and Bi-Polar disorder (rapid cycling) He excepted a plea bargain in which was a defferred adjudication if he do XYZ. Well he agreed to go to a 90 day MTDOC program and was imediatly stripped of his medications. You can guess what happend after that. We fought for him hard in the court but the judge didn't care. She eventually sent him to prison September 24th 2009 for failing to complete the program. The sad part about all of this is that he was medications compliant. He had gone through enough of a learning curve on his own that he finally recognized he had a problem. Everyone knows how hard it is for these people to get to this point and stay there. You all can imagine the behavioral problems he is having in the prison and not understanding why he is being punished. What has really infuriates us is that MTDOC knows what they did was wrong and from the day our son was discharged from the program for non violent behavioral problems has been a continual process of denial that our son went to the program with his medications. They even went so far as to have the Medical Director call me on the phone from the prison to tell us that he saw no evidence of bi-polar disorder etc. If that wasn's bad enough he put our son on two anti depressants. We are just waiting for what we know is coming next. I have made a great deal of important contacts and actually have news papers wanting to print my son's story. After going through the school of hard knocks I have learned many things about mental illness, and have an extensive lessons in politics and civics. Tackling this right and wrong issue is not easy. The fact of the matter is Montana State Prison is torturing mentally ill inmates and defense lawyers have been unable to stop it. Montana DOC programs are run a muck and I can't in good conscience let this go. Our son's attorney is doing everything thing he can as far as legal remedies but he tells us he is entering into uncharted territory. To someone that has never been in this position before, Montana law can sound to others as unbelievable. The US constitution and even our Montana Constitution prohibits what they do to others and our son but it continues. To me it goes beyond what a civilized society would consider cruel and unusual. There has got to be a way of communicating properly that is effective. Please, I have the time and the energy but I'm just a mom. Do any of you have what you think to be good answers as to a correct starting points? Right now I wish I could scream from our mountain tops because it appears as though reform has fallen on deaf ears. Please help me if you can.

  • donnamwilson

    Idaho Department of Corrections is taking the national lead in making sure the mentally ill offenders get treatment rather than warehousing them in jails and prisons. Their Mental Health and Drug Courts do not necessarily exclude violent offenders from programs. Each IDOC commit gets a psychiatric examination not just an interview to determine if there are underlying mental illness that could be the instigator of the problems. And there are no restrictions on medications. Our son got in trouble with the law here in Montana at age 16 that was directly due to his mental illness of ADHD and Bi-Polar disorder (rapid cycling) He excepted a plea bargain in which was a defferred adjudication if he do XYZ. Well he agreed to go to a 90 day MTDOC program and was imediatly stripped of his medications. You can guess what happend after that. We fought for him hard in the court but the judge didn't care. She eventually sent him to prison September 24th 2009 for failing to complete the program. The sad part about all of this is that he was medications compliant. He had gone through enough of a learning curve on his own that he finally recognized he had a problem. Everyone knows how hard it is for these people to get to this point and stay there. You all can imagine the behavioral problems he is having in the prison and not understanding why he is being punished. What has really infuriates us is that MTDOC knows what they did was wrong and from the day our son was discharged from the program for non violent behavioral problems has been a continual process of denial that our son went to the program with his medications. They even went so far as to have the Medical Director call me on the phone from the prison to tell us that he saw no evidence of bi-polar disorder etc. If that wasn's bad enough he put our son on two anti depressants. We are just waiting for what we know is coming next. I have made a great deal of important contacts and actually have news papers wanting to print my son's story. After going through the school of hard knocks I have learned many things about mental illness, and have an extensive lessons in politics and civics. Tackling this right and wrong issue is not easy. The fact of the matter is Montana State Prison is torturing mentally ill inmates and defense lawyers have been unable to stop it. Montana DOC programs are run a muck and I can't in good conscience let this go. Our son's attorney is doing everything thing he can as far as legal remedies but he tells us he is entering into uncharted territory. To someone that has never been in this position before, Montana law can sound to others as unbelievable. The US constitution and even our Montana Constitution prohibits what they do to others and our son but it continues. To me it goes beyond what a civilized society would consider cruel and unusual. There has got to be a way of communicating properly that is effective. Please, I have the time and the energy but I'm just a mom. Do any of you have what you think to be good answers as to a correct starting points? Right now I wish I could scream from our mountain tops because it appears as though reform has fallen on deaf ears. Please help me if you can.

  •  I’m not sure if you’ve seen the news reports, my husband, has been charged with criminal offenses on 06/05/2012 in Lee County Jail, and is still in jail on a $1,351,000.00 bond (yes, that’s $1.3 MILLION).  The 911 call was made by our son who was seven at the time (just turned 8 on July 9th)….which was meant to be a medical call in order to get Dash to a hospital for medical attention.   I had him call since Dash has been on medical leave, and I felt he was having reaction to either a change in medication, or in need of a change in medication. This fiasco manifested into:
    BATTERY – COMMIT DOMESTIC BATTERY BY STRANGULATIONAgency: LCSO Counts: 1 Type: Felony Bond Amt: $100,000.00
    KIDNAP-FALSE IMPRISONMENT – ADULTAgency: LCSO Counts: 2 Type: Felony Bond Amt: $250,000.00
    RESIST OFFICER – OBSTRUCT WO VIOLENCEAgency: LCSO Counts: 3 Type: Misdemeanor Bond Amt: $1,000.00
    EXPLOSIVES-POSSESSING – MFG TRANSPORT ETC WIT TO HARM LIFE OR LIMBAgency: LCSO Counts: 4 Type: Felony Bond Amt: $1,000,000.00
    I couldn’t stress enough to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to get him medical attention, but they were clearly adamant someone was getting arrested (obviously with him at 6’4”, and me at 5’0”  I would say he got the SHORT end of the stick)!  LCSO and the media portrayed him as a monster/terrorist, but I know otherwise.  Once you’re in the system for “alleged” domestic violence, you’re guilty until proven innocent and they do not listen to the “alleged” victim because they think she’s scared or is having victim’s remorse.  His attorney said his bond amounts were a travesty.  He has no prior record/history.   I am in no way a victim of domestic abuse!    If I were, I wouldn’t be trying so hard to get him out.  It would be easy to just leave him in there.   Looking back…I should have driven him to the hospital myself (and will never call 911 again). I don’t know of anyone other than NAMI, and the ACLU (whom I contacted) does advocacy for this type of situation….I was hoping for your insight and expertise for direction!
    The doctor in jail took him off all his medications because he felt he didn’t need them!  he nade this decision after meeting with him in all but 5 minutes without regard to obtaining any of his medical records.