Time to speak out, not hide!

As I write this, we still don’t know if Jared Loughner had been diagnosed with a mental disorder before his weekend shooting rampage. Loughner is the 22 year-old accused of wounding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D.-Ariz.) and killing a federal judge along with five others in Tuscon.    

The Washington Post and New York Times both reported that officials at Pima Community College told Loughner and his parents in October that he would not be able to continue as a student until he obtained a clearance from a mental health professional  that certified he was not a danger to himself or others.

That revelation certainly implies that Loughner was exhibiting symptoms of a mental disorder, but no one should automatically assume that.

Stories such as Loughner’s are upsetting to those of us who have loved ones with mental illnesses. That’s especially true if your loved one has tangled with the police while psychotic because you know how quickly an incident can turn violent.

If it turns out that Loughner did have a diagnosed mental disorder, I hope the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), and other leading advocacy groups do not run for cover.

Instead, they should follow the example that  NAMI Ohio set last week when Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper, age 40, the mother of two children, was murdered by a man with a severe mental illness.

Deputy Hopper was fatally shot and Deputy Jermey Blum was wounded during a gun battle with Michael Ferryman, age 57, a man with a history of mental illness. The shoot- out happened outside Ferryman’s trailer in Springfield. 

This was not the first time that Ferryman had shot at the police. He fired 16 times at other trailer park residents and the police in 2001 after an argument over fire wood. Fortunately, no one was harmed. Ferryman was arrested but was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” at his trial. He spent a year in a state hospital before being released.

NAMI Ohio issued a press release as soon as it learned that Deputy Hopper had been murdered by Ferryman, who also was killed in the shootout.

As the state’s largest family and consumer mental health advocacy organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio (NAMI Ohio) is outraged at the tragic death of Deputy Suzanne Hopper.   Law enforcement officers are the unsung heroes of our mental health system.  Family members and consumers often feel that the mental health system has failed us.  This is yet another example of how this system has failed.  Suzanne Hopper, a highly decorated officer, wife, mother, and active member of her community has paid the ultimate price.  

Our organization has screamed at the state leadership that these tragedies would occur if the mental health system did not adequately provide services, monitoring, and the oversight needed by certain individuals with serious and persistent mental illness.  Our pleas were not only ignored but disregarded as an exaggeration.  Today, we pray for Deputy Hopper and her family and Patrolman Jeremy Blum.  We will never forget that Deputy Hopper gave her life in the line of duty.  This tragedy will serve as a constant reminder to NAMI Ohio not to give up until the state has made needed changes. 


 Obviously, incidents such as the shootings of Deputies Hopper and Blum can increase stigma and fear. That’s why I believe we need to step forward immediately when they happen and put them into context. We need to remind the public that persons with mental disorders are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them. Having a mental illness does not make a person violent.  

But we also need to acknowledge that persons, who are clearly sick, can harm others if they do not have access to meaningful community treatment services and their relatives are prevented by misguided laws from helping them get those services.

By issuing its press release, NAMI Ohio turned the spotlight where it should be — on our broken mental health care system and our need to revise our laws.

The murder of Deputy Suzanne Hopper is horrible. So were the murders of my friend, Fairfax County Detective Vicky Armel and of Fairfax Officer Mike Garbarino in 2006. They also were killed by a person suffering from untreated mental illness.  The Virginia Tech massacre was equally as horrible.

The only way to stop these senseless killings is by calling attention to the need to fix our system. Being quiet and pretending nothing can or should be done should not be an acceptable option.

It’s time for advocates to speak out and demand reforms!

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. Thanks to Pete or telling it like it is and callenging all of us to do someting about it. Unfortunately, the public will most likely only hear “mental illness” and equate ALL mental illness with violence; not realizing that it’s the absence of treatment that can cause violence. That’s the real issue.

  2. Thanks Pete, you explain the facts and put them into perspective in a way that I wish I could communicate. This is exactly how I am feeling both fearful of the stigma but also knowing the consequences of an untreated mental illness. This situation in AZ is a horrible tragedy all around and I fear that we may find that this young man was suffering from a psychotic illness, that he either could not or would not get help for. If that is the case shame on all of us for allowing it to happen.

  3. I hope that NAMI and others steup up as well, if it turns out he does have a mental health condition. What I oppose is everyone from the Pima County Sheriff to the average Twitter user automatically assuming he is – words I’ve seen and heard this past weekend – crazy, paranoid, schizophrenic, bipolar, insane, mentally unbalanced.

    The automatic assumption that a senseless, violent crime MUST have been perpetrated by someone with a mental health condition is what furthers the stigma that ALL people with mental health conditions are in some sense dangerous. Which is very, very far from the truth.

  4. Thanks for speaking out Pete. I have encouraged our local mental health professionals and representatives to speak out too. This is bigger than just politics as some of the media is portraying it.
    I pray for a full recovery for the Congresswoman and that she may forgive Loughner and help Americans understand that the perpetrator was a victim of illnesses we fail to treat. It seems obvious to me Loughner suffers from a thought disorder.

  5. Linda Murphrey says

    I am so glad that you chose to write about this, Pete. As I have watched the recent news coverage, my heart has been broken for ALL of the victims in the tragedies – including the shooters who, yes, are victims as well. These were preventable tragedies – by changes in law and availability of mental health options. Tragic.

  6. Mental health options are, in many communities, very limited. And then if you’re lucky enough to get help, the medications are often only partially effective. In my opinion, until we have some real breakthroughs in treating people with brain disorders so that they are basically indistinguishable from everyone else, the stigma of being “different” will not go away.

  7. Gilsantoscoy says

    We the people of the United States of America,
    Have to immediately start to protect and provide medical treatment to all our Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, Sisters, and Children, who are mentally ill.

    It is their inalienable right as citizens of the USA


  8. I could not agree more. Mental illness is a well kept secret, affecting so many more families than anyone could ever guess. I think your peice is valuable too, because it urges families to speak up against the stigma and show the true face of mental illness: people who can be (ane are) bright, kind, good, from good families who have the terrible misfortune of having a biological illness that happens to be in the brain.

  9. What a tragedy. I guess the question is still out there for so many of us still. Why did he not get the help he so needed? Was it the shame of his parents to say that word, mentally disabled or the lack of support and lack of medical care in his community that was not accessible. I think this is the question so many are still waiting to hear. We all are somewhat educated enough to no that no form of mental health disabilities are curable but it has been proven by our best, that it is treatable. Much debate here will come forth in days to come. I can only hope that change will come and mental health care will finally be addressed and each state and community will have the means to seek the help when needed. we all no a friend, a mother, a brother, a sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent who has been inflicted and cannot get the care they so need and with better health care these forms of tragedies will be stopped and the mentally ill inflicted consumers, no longer will suffer. Its a win win for all.

    • Or they just don’t know any better… his parents may have not been feeling shame but were just unaware of what was wrong with him and even if they did know, the law right now would have allowed him to refuse help – and of course accessibality is a problem of its own

    • Once a child turns 18 you can not force them to seek or accept Mental health assistance or medical assistance. This is one of the hardest problems the health care system and parents face. Even if the parents new of a pre-existing mental condition it is difficult to illegal to try to force them to take medications or get treatment once that child turns 18. It’s going to take new laws and educating the public on MI before we see things like this less often.

  10. Martha Moet says

    Too many families are ashamed and ignore the fact that a family member needs help for a possible mental illness so the family hides.

  11. As hard as it is to get treatment for someone who is sick, its that hard to call 911 and ask for a CIT Trained Police Officer to come to the home. That police officer can put your love on on a M1-Hold and get the treatment your loved one so needs, they can be a harm to themselves or gravelly ill or a harm to someone else. They do not have to commit a crime before they seek the so needed care they need. If a parent calls 911 the police officers are not just in the community to arrest someone for being sick, they can help you get the help your love one needs. It has to hard for anyone to call 911 on their loved one, but, it will help them to get the help they don’t understand they need.