Elephant In The Room

Amid all of the rhetoric, name-calling, and finger-pointing that’s going on, it’s nice that some journalists and advocates are actually speaking out thoughtfully about how difficult it is to get meaningful help for a person with a mental disorder.  Diane Rehm on NPR devoted an hour to the struggles that parents face when they have an adult child with a disorder. I was grateful to be part of that discussion. 
 Kudos to Diane and kudos to these others.
Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily. 
I would urge you to read her blog. Yes, I’m glad that she mentioned my book, but what I really appreciate is her clarity in explaining that mental health and civil rights issues about commitment are complicated and that hateful and inflammatory language only reinforces stigma. 
Bravo to Jill and, based on what she wrote, Russ Limbaugh and my old Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz should be ashamed. They owe the mental health community an apology! 
Kudos also to:
Bill Kurtis of CBS for speaking out about his own family’s struggles. Please take time to read Robert Feder’s blog about Kurtis and his son.
As the parent of a son with a mental disorder, I welcome Kurtis’s support and advocacy. 
Kudos to:
The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare which put out an interesting statement that describes a new teaching tool to help parents and loved ones. 
Unfortunately, most of the statements that I read that were issued by mental health advocacy groups simply reinforced their own well-known positions rather than looking at the tragedy in Tucson with fresh eyes and asking how together we might be able to prevent these senseless shootings.
I find it sad that so much of the national discussion has focused on whether a lack of political civility played a role and, as always, whether we need gun control. I’m disappointed because the most important issue here should not be right wing vs. left wing politics, or endless debates about gun control.
 It should be about our broken mental health system.
Incedibly, it is the elephant in the room.
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. not specifically a Limbaugh die hard listener, am ashamed of his dissing drugs and then getting caught with drugs
    BUT Rush is merely parroting the same thing that 99.99% of people who don/t have to deal daily with mental illness. That being …said I am glad he took off after the ratba$tard politicians who politicized this issue, the NGSOB Rahm Emmanuel (whose brother WILL have “youth in Asia” for the mentally ill if he EVER get’s the chance) had to back pedal.

    And Rush did give it to the scientist’s and Pro Lifers when they said a
    “life form was found in arsenic based”See More

  2. I find myself asking, sometimes, a really politically incorrect question. If communes are great for leftists, why are old-line work-hospital residential communities not great for people with SPMI? We strive, at great cost, to create “community-based” Fountain House day programs where everyone is needed for the functioning of the day program (which is located in the community but typically encapsulated) … and then the “consumers” must be transported back to a “community-based” group home where they are fed and medicated and cleaned up after, and can’t get themselves to social activities or out to buy things they might need. I really can’t see the difference between “community-based” life and a large SPMI “commune” — except one is more admittedly dependent and, once sited, less politically fraught.

  3. Alyssa Ford Morel says

    I agree, Pete, that the heart of the issue of the Arizona tragedy is the mental health system and the many barriers between individuals in need and the help they deserve. Thank goodness for shows like Diane Rehm’s that address the problem in thoughtful ways, inviting a variety of expert views. Thank you for mentioning my employer, Pathway Homes, in a positive way, and for talking about the fact that there are proven methods of successfully supporting people with mental illness in their recovery. Just last night I got to hear a wonderful first-person account of personal triumph over this devastating illness. Those of us who work in the field are priviledged to partner with the courageous individuals on their recovery journey.

  4. I do not believe it is that simple. Saying it is “The Mental Health System” is an awfully convenient attitude, and perspective; particularly for those who want to reduce the issues down to mental illness and how to treat the difficulties associated with it. Focusing on only the treatment, and not the rest of the human experience of those who are in fact those diagnosed in needing not only drugs. Like all humans these people–need to be seen as worthy of and actually be treated with respect by their family and their “treatment providers.”

    The damage done to my son knowing that what he thought felt and said was not respected–by the majority. Even a “seriously mentally ill” child knows if he is being treated with respect and valued as a human with basic human rights. I was devastated virtually every time I visited him and saw the inhumane conditions he existed in.

    The biggest challenges the “seriously mentally ill” face in their daily lives is how they are treated by EVERYONE, not just the mental health system and those who work in it. Needing to be regarded as worthy of being treated with civility, needing and worthy of having their of civil rights protected, needing unconditional love, which requires respect and positive regard. Those diagnosed NEED family and others who care for and love them to recognize a diagnosis does not mean these needs are altered. The reality is as humans we are all profoundly effected by those whom we interact with. To state that drugs first foremost and always are the best way for parents to show their love for their offspring. Resulting in some parents being feared and rejected by their children. We can not realistically as a society think that we as individuals and groups have a responsibility to do more than ridicule the survivor movement? Is there a chance that, this is the easier softer way; for the families of and for the “mental health system as it is, without regard or respect for whom it serves? The system was structured to sustain and maintain control of not treatment for those it serves. Because this is what parents like you Mr. Earley who wanted it this way. There is a survivor movement as a direct result of the appalling treatment and the drugs and shock treatment’s it’s horrifying EFFECTS, not “side effects.” Other than how survivors were impacted physically, mentally and emotionally from their experiences which Mr. Stanley, Big Pharma, among others funds for the pseudo-advocacate Aristocracy to push this agenda.

    You are entitled to your opinion, but all due respect, how can you with absolute certainty, that your experience gives you the right to speak for all parents who have an adult child with a diagnosis considered by TAC as needing to be drugged, forcefully if necessary, for LIFE? WHO and what gives any one of you the right?! In effect, you advocate frome a very myopic perspective. How dare you! This column in light of the reality of how the people who have managed to become a part of the survivor movement do not have the millions and millions of those who are funding this agenda you endorse, claiming it is for their own good to be court ordered and robbed of cognitive abilities and physical health in the mental health system. You are disrespectful of families who believe their children, they are not claiming to be harmed and being “noncompliant” in taking the drugs just to annoy their NAMI or other Conflicted advocacy group indoctrinated parents for God’s sake!

    You disrespectfully spoke of those who have in fact done you no harm. In fact you like most pseudo-advocates are pushing a very specific agenda down America’s collective throat. Why don’t you spend more attention on the Conflicts of Interest in the sources of your funding of this platform you have become one of a few spokes people for? Why don’t you lobby for pharmaceutical industry reform, for instance? Medicaid pays up to 6x for drugs manufactured here in the US than the same drugs are sold for in other countries. Fraud and corruption and a return to ethical conduct in psychiatry and the Courts which have been perverted by psychiatry halls of justice are not what mental health courts are. Here is my take on what Psychiatry’s Elephant in the Room is:http://involuntarytransformation.blogspot.com/2010/09/psychiatrys-elephant-in-room.html

  5. Marilyn Davies says


    My son is diagnosed with a serious mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type with paranoia.

    The first part of September 2010 my son stopped taking his medication, Abilify and Lexapro. Afterward the following symptoms of psychosis were observed; withdrawal and estrangement from family and friends, disposal of cell phone and laptop, throwing and giving away all belongings and furniture, refusal to accept SSI funds, wandering as reported by Lake Crystal police, becoming mute, and bizarre change in appearance. As he was not compliant with medication the court was notified and two hearings were held in November 2010.

    My son’s medical provider of Blue Earth County reported to Brown County Court that based on an assessment made November 15, 2010, “at this time no psychiatric medications were warranted; therefore, (my son’s name) remains compliant with recommendations per this psychiatric provider.” This, along with the recommendation of the probation office, resulted in Judge Rodenberg discharging my son from the supervision of the court as he was considered in compliance and no longer in violation of his probation. Off medication, he immediately left for Austin, Texas to wander in a psychosis, with no insight of his illness. He now has no family, friends, or safety net to address the symptoms, which he has no capacity to recognize, due to this disorienting brain disorder.

    My son’s illness initially manifested July 2006 when he left his college dorm at the University of Georgia to wander homeless for seven months. During that incident he also threw away his cell phone, laptop, and all belongings; was bizarre in appearance; and withdrew from family and friends. He eventually was arrested on two occasions before I was able to locate him, bail him out, and bring him to Minnesota. At that point he was severe delusional, conveying that a movie star was his fiance, the police had followed him around campus for four years with cameras, Washington had hacked into his computer, he was supposed to be in Europe making a movie, among other bizarre thoughts and behavior. After refusing treatment from Brown County Services, he once more wandered homeless. Before Brown County could file a commitment petition he was arrested for a felony burglary charge of stealing $11 in dimes. This placed him at New Ulm Regional Hospital psychiatric floor and on the above mentioned probation. In the past few years on medication, he has been able to finish his four year college degree at Minnesota State Mankato with a 3.5 GPA there. The current loss of medication has now resulted in my son once more wandering in an untreated psychosis. Now robbed of quality of life, it appears likely before his illness is addressed, he will possibly offend again, or worst scenario cause injury to others or himself, as he also has a history of reported suicidal ideation.

    Immediately following my son fleeing to Texas the first of December I sought the advice of Brian Stettin, Policy Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center of Virginia, and Sue Abderhoden, Executive Director of Minnesota NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Mr Stettin referred to the actions of this provider as “malpractice” and Ms Abderholden referred to them as “bad clinical judgment” and “poor quality of care”. With their encouragement, I wrote Blue Earth County Human Services a letter requesting an investigation of this provider’s actions, along with corroborating information. Since then, Angela Youngerberg, Program Manager of South Central Community-Based Initiative, and Bob Meyer, Director of Blue Earth County Human Services, have said they will look into my concerns. However, due to data privacy surrounding cases of mental illness, they cannot discuss the case with me, or make me aware of the outcome, unless it is made public, and Mr Meyer stated firmly he trusted the decisions of his staff. The fact that this investigation of her action, of what appears a break down of our mental health system, is being conducted by people that work along side this provider, does give me reason to question the objectivity in this case. Even with my background as a protective service worker, the current Mental Health System remains a nightmare for me, as it is for all families of mental illness. Regardless, it is my hope that my meager attempt to address my son’s unfortunate, yet preventable, situation will somehow, make a difference in the quality of care provided to those affected by this tragic illness, and that future incidents, such as that that took place in Tucson, will be prevented. I heard Pete Early speak in Decatur, Alabama the year my son was diagnosed. He was so kind to talk with me and listen to my pain before signing his book, Crazy.

    A Mother and Advocate of Mental Illness, Marilyn Davies