Top Notch, Inspirational Speakers!

When I’m asked to recommend a speaker, I immediately mention four mental health advocates.

I’ve seen Fred Frese, PhD., talk for two hours and still leave the audience wanting more. Diagnosed with schizophrenia while in the U.S. Marine Corps, Fred could have easily ended-up in the back mental ward of a state institution, forgotten and   overlooked. Instead, he managed to win his freedom, take control over his symptoms and become a strident consumer advocate. Along the way, he earned a doctorate in psychology, ran a hospital ward and taught as a professor. As a speaker, he is an emotional powerhouse who causes listeners to leap to their feet.

Miami Dade Judge Steven Leifman is the courageous jurist who got me access to the jail where I did research for CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.   Few understand the criminalization of persons with mental illneses as well as he does. In Florida, he has used his judicial authority to bring together stakeholders who provide services to persons with mental problems so they can work together for the community good.  Just as importantly, Judge Leifman understands how local, state and federal agencies work and he has used his knowledge to get several innovative pilot programs launched that are not only helping persons but saving tax dollars.

As medical director of the Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services, Dr. Tracey Skale is a psychiatrist who works everyday in the trenches. Among her other duties, she oversees a Homeless ACT Team which uses a Housing First approach to serve individuals with chronic mental illness and chronic homelessness by providing intensive, team-based wrap-around services to give this population the support, treatment and hope that they need to thrive.    But it is Dr. Skale’s heart that sets her apart. When others abandon difficult patients, she steps in and proves that no one is “unrestorable.”

Sam Cochranis a familiar name because he is the retired police major who is  responsible for the development and spread of the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model. In addition to being modest, Sam Cochren is a dogged and politically shrewd mental health advocate. Clearly his expertise is in bringing the mental health and law enforcement  communities together. But recently he has expanded CIT to be much more than a training program for law enforcement. Rather, CIT is changing the way that entire communities view mental health. He is now using what he has learned to spread CIT Internationally.  

Obviously, there are many other talented speakers.  I always suggest that groups call the National Alliance on Mental Illness and ask to speak to someone in the In Our Own Voice program or reach out to consumers who belong to Mental Health America or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Few can speak about mental illness and the need for reforms as well as those who have a mental disorder.

In the past few years, I have been on the same program as Fred Frese, Judge Liefman, Dr. Tracey Skale and Major Sam Cochren, and whenever that happens, I just hope that I get to go on stage first — because each one of them is a very, very tough act to follow.

Have you heard someone recently who inspired you? If so, share that experience with us.

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.


  1. I’ve heard Dr. Skale speak and she is, indeed, inspirational! She cares about persons with disorders and is just a tremendous advocate. I liked her on Minds on the Edge too and read that website and her comments.