Typing As Fast As I Can

I had about five minutes to read, answer and then email my responses back to USA Today yesterday during a live, Internet chat about my article:  Don’t Blame Jared Loughner’s Parents.  

It was the first time that I have ever participated in such an exchange with readers and I found myself scrambling to keep up. I was only able to answer about half of the questions that were sent to me. If you think five minutes is a long time to do this, well, then you are quicker than I am.

Here is a copy of the questions and my answers if you missed the discussion. For those of you who participated, thanks! I hope it was helpful.

Comment  from Pete Earley: Thanks for reading my column. I am eager to chat with you about parents and adult children with mental disorders. Let’s get started.

Prattville, AL: Blaming the parents for a son’s actions is the easiest thing when people don’t understand anything about mental illness or have any personal experience. It’s a shame the public can make a bad situation even worse. The parents are grieving also. I bet, had they known his plans, they would have done anything in their power to prevent this tragedy. I can relate to your article and understand the frustrations and red tape when dealing with mental illness. I have also had to commit my father, who is bipolar, too many times to count and it’s an emotional roller coaster and seems to be more difficult each time. Alabama really lacks the funds and resources to help the mentally ill and sometimes the help is too little too late. What has to be done in order to get better help for our mentally ill?
Pete Earley: Thanks for sharing your story. We are making progress, but it is slow. Many states now recognize that the dangerous criteria is simply inadequate. They are looking at whether someone is gravely ill, which is a better choice. We have to find a way to protect civil rights but also get people who are sick the help that they need. The second part of the answer is good community care. This is not a case of us not knowing how to help. It is a case of us not wanting to spend the money to provide the help that we know works. We also have made improvements in how the criminal justice system interacts with persons who are sick. We have CIT –Crisis Intervention Training programs to teach the police how to recognize mental illness. Also jail diversion programs to keep people out of jail.



As a parent myself, I can’t buy your defense of the Loughners. If anyone should have realized how deeply troubled their son was, it should have been his parents. Also your statement that he did not live at home was incorrect according to all the reports I have heard. To have lived with this ticking time bomb for at least five years and done nothing to help him is unconscionable. Contrary to your assertion that they had no warning from the college, documentation has shown that the father was warned and advised to get help.
Pete Earley: You must remember that adult children are adults. As a parent, it is your job to protect and help your child, especially when a child becomes sick. But when they become adults, that gets rough, especially if the person has a mental disorder and does not want your help. There are many parents out there who have psychotic adult children in their home and can’t force them into treatment and can’t throw them out onto the streets. I also doubt the Loughners thought that their son was a mass murderer. I doubt you would view your son that way. I believe we must reserve judgment until we find out more about what they knew. But even then, please don’t forget that adults cannot be forced under our system to seek mental help and some studies suggest that 40 to 50 percent of persons who are psychotic do not think they are sick and refuse to go into treatment.



Spencer Virgina: On CNN yesterday, you spoke of befriending your son vs ‘tough love.’ Can you expand on this? My son has been undiagnosed for 18 years now because of the scenario you painted that he is calmed down when I get him in front of authorities. He battles rage. Most times his rage is directed at me. I too gave the ultimatum, and he moved out. He is headed for homelessness or jail. I would like points of contact but most important, how did you present this information to your son?
Pete Earley: I lied to get my son into treatment. I told authorities that he had threatened to kill me. This was after he was arrested breaking into a house to take a bubble bath. If I didn’t lie, he would have gone to jail. My son has always resented that I lied. He had three more major breaks. I tried to work with him during those incidents and tried to understand what he was going through. It helps because we have better communication and are part of a team. But I still am worried when he starts becoming sick. This is why I recommend Advance Directives. The ill person signs a paper that gives his parent or trusted friend the ability to make decisions for him if he becomes psychotic. I write more about them on my web page at www.peteearley.com in my blog. Parents can become enablers, that is why people advise us to practice “tough love” but I have never found that to work well. What if tough love means your son is homeless or in jail? How can you use tough love if you are battling a brain disorder? Remember, these are sicknesses.



Spencer, IN: Madman, crazy man, lunatic, deranged, nuts and creepy are some of the words used to describe Jared Loughner. I not only heard these judgments from friends, but from prominent federal employees reporting from the White House and influential media personalities. (On the Internet I read that he should have shot himself.) On one hand they claim Jared has a mental illness, yet on the other hand they use this disrespectful terminology! What other illness is addressed with such slang from high ranking officials? I feel Jared is a young man in great pain and confusion and deserves better. Suppose he does have a genetic predisposition for a neurological, brain or a mental disorder, that alone is challenging, but to live in a volatile political atmosphere, in my opinion, compounds the issue. Add on to this the normal stress of trying to understand oneself in a fast-paced global society, and this young man is bearing a lot of pain. Perhaps escaping reality is an outlet. I feel those in our society, especially those who have some emotional distance from the shooting, can become more educated, responsible and compassionate. Yes, it is a lot to ask, to open our hearts and minds and change our language, but that makes for a valid point and teachable moment. In so trying, one has the opportunity to empathize with the struggle Jared endures in trying to conform to our reality. I believe the media could have sent a message that such violent acts are unacceptable and Jared needs to take responsibility for his actions, yet speak of him with dignity and understanding of his illness. I feel it further impedes a person from seeking assistance when they fear they will be judged and insulted by society for doing so. My questions: Could you please give a scenario of how you would report the event to the public and do as I described in the above paragraph? I would like to write our public officials and ask them to “clean up their language”. What do you think is an effective way of saying this in a letter? Thank you!
Pete Earley: No, thank you for your excellent comment. What this man did was horrible. No one thinks otherwise. The question is did he do it deliberately or was he mentally ill? Being mentally ill does not excuse his actions, but it certainly should make a difference in how we look at him and the punishment that he receives. I have always felt that language is important and the use of the words that you mentioned are harmful and increase stigma against persons with mental disorders. The National Institutes of Mental Health says that one in five people will have a mental illness in any given year. That is a lot of people and many of them are afraid to speak out because we make fun of persons whose minds become confused. Would we make fun of someone who has cancer? No. Yet we make fun of persons with mental disorders. There should be no shame in having a mental disorder, only shame in us not doing something to help those who do. I blame ignorance and believe persons in high public jobs, as well as reporters, need to understand that the use of offensive language against persons with disorders is no more acceptable than terms that are racist and sexist.



Oakland CA: Thank you for the opinion piece. Have you included the question of cost of treatment for mental illness? The drugs in use are among the most expensive, easily exhaust limits in prescription benefits. Hospitalization is enormously expensive. And for out-patient care, it is difficult to get psychiatrists to take difficult or complex cases.
Pete Earley: Sadly, we still do not have good medicines that can help with the symptoms of mental disorders. Most are not only expensive but also have side effects. My son has gained 50 pounds thanks to his antipsychotics. We also have a shortage of good psychiatrists. What we need to understand is that it requires more than medication to help someone with a mental illness. It also takes jobs — so they can work. In many cases it takes housing — so they can live independently. It also takes community acceptance so that they don’t have to hide and live in shame. The good news is that many of these jobs and housing programs can actually save a community money while they help someone get better. They are more economic than building more jails and prisons. They are more effective than repeated trips to emergency rooms or stays in homeless shelters. I believe that actually helping a person get better will, in the long run, save a community money. When it comes to drugs. We need to find ways to help persons get medications without bankrupting families and persons who are ill. Right now, that is tough.



Fairfax, Va. 22033: My husband and I met you at one of the mental health awareness meetings promoting your book. Our son Teddy is now 29 years old. Three years ago he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was evaluated by the Virginia State Mental Hospital and stayed for two months. He was released and six months later was admitted for two more months. Doctors said that he should just go home. Meds weren’t really working and so we took him home and my husband and I agreed to not force meds on him. It was 1 1/2 years of hell. But I am here to say that he has stepped out of most of his schizophrenia and stepped into OCD. He refused to see a doctor. It is my assessment. He buys lots of shampoo, lots of colon cleanse and mouth wash etc. and takes an hour shower every day. We go to dinner with him and he walks across the street for his groceries and his cleaning products. Praise God he gets out. Because for 1 1/2 years he lived in his bedroom even on his birthday and Christmas. We have seen a miracle before our very eyes. I just wonder if the pot he was smoking masked the illness. Do you know of a group here in Fairfax that has a meeting for us to understand his illness better? Thank you and may God bless you and your son.
Pete Earley: The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great chapter in Fairfax County. You can find it on the NAMI website and are welcome to join. It has a meeting next Monday night. Oftentimes, persons with mental disorders self medicate. They drink or use drugs to help ease the pain in their brains. The most common drug of choice is cigarettes. Studies show that 40% of all cigarettes bought in this country are bought by persons with severe mental disorders. Of course this hurts their health. If you have a loved one who has a serious drug or alcohol problem, then you might also have someone with a mental disorder. It takes a good doctor to diagnose and a good treatment team to help that person.



Ft Myers, FL: If it is mental illness in the Tucson case, why are the “legal” authorities and general public trying so hard to disallow the insanity defense and further undermine the validity of insanity as a true and legal illness in the U.S.? Does retribution trump mental illness? Legal authorities and pundits claim there was intent with writings specific to the congresswoman and therefore regardless of illness, that trumps mental defense opportunity; similarly, if a mental patient willfully does not take medication, that may also be a claim of intent for any crime since supposedly the medication would prevent the crime. If mentally disabled patients cannot use the illness defense, then how can the public, legally or otherwise, believe that there are individuals who are “legally” mentally challenged? Can jurors be disqualified based on their feelings about mental illness; if yes, is that a violation of the Disabilities Act?
Pete Earley: Wow, what a powerful question. Thank you. I am not an attorney but I will try to answer your question based on my research. First let me suggest an article that was published by the New York Times about federal and state laws when it comes to insanity. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/us/15investigate.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 Does retribution trump mental illness? Absolutely. There are some 200 persons with severe mental illnesses currently on death rows in this country. Many of these persons have absolutely no idea what they have done. They have been sentenced to death because a court has ruled that they know the difference between right and wrong. That is the standard, not whether someone is mentally ill. Please look at a blog that I wrote about this concerning Kelsey Patterson. http://www.peteearley.com/2010/04/11/how-do-we-define-insanity/ Because we do not know what, if any, mental illness Jared Loughner might have, we can’t predict what will be his fate. But I would wager that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, either in a forensic hospital or prison, just as John Hinckley, the Unibomber and Andrea Yates. I like your question about the disabilities act but am afraid that I can’t answer. Maybe someone else can.



Scituate, MA.: I run a parent support group for parents of young adults; the young adults have a mental illness. What would you say is the main issue I should be educating the parents about in caring for their young adult who is ill and living with them?
Pete Earley: Parents need to find a way to keep communication open with their children but also understand that once they become adults, the parental control is going to diminish. That is why it is so important to get a child into treatment and help them understand the seriousness of their disorder early on so they can learn how to control the symptoms later when they are adults. One of the toughest lessons for me was that I couldn’t simply swoop in and save my adult child. There were laws, rules, attorneys, doctors standing in my way. I also was ignorant. I had to learn about our mental-health system and our legal system. Family to Family is a great course taught by the National Alliance on Mental Illness that can help parents learn how to help their children. It helps both sides learn what is acceptable and what is not. Advance directives help. But I guess what is most important is trying to establish some ground rules about what will happen if someone becomes psychotic or stops taking their medication or engaging in treatment. A person with mental illness wants freedom. We all do. But when you have a serious mental impairment, that impairment is what keeps your from being free, not the persons who love you and want to help you. That is a tough lesson for people to understand. Parents should not be the enemy.



Knoxville, TN: I am an intern at a system of care that works with high-risk youth 14-21. Are you familiar with this country-wide initiative to bring about change to the children and youth mental-health field? I am an advocate for expanding this philosophy to the adult system. I have family members who are suffering with misdiagnosed mental-health issues, and have experienced a loss of a family to a mentally-ill person with a gun. There must be many changes in the mental-health field in order to meet the needs of those it serves. Early identification and treatment are key in resolving these issues. I would like to hear your thoughts on what would make this system better.
Pete Earley: I am not aware of the system of care that you mention because most of my research and writing has been about adult children. This is because my son was an adult when he became sick and he was arrested. Therefore, I have spent most of my time advocating for the decriminalization of persons with mental illnesses. Getting help early is essential. The Va Tech shooter got help when he was in public schools before he turned 18. I think helping educate students and teachers about mental illness is essential. But have limited information about programs specifically aimed at young people. Sorry.



Lexington, KY: Even with AOT laws in our state, it’s been impossible for my husband and I to obtain timely and meaningful medical help for our son who sufferers with serious mental-health diagnoses. Without treatment and supports, he becomes abusive, delusional and sometimes threatens public officials to gain attention for delusional projects, which are a reality only in his mind. He does not take medications because he does not believe he is sick. Many times law enforcement professionals have indicated they can not report, refer or share information regarding my son’s serious illness to mental-health agencies. They will state their job only allows them to arrest the person with an SMI. How can we advocate for law enforcement to share information with community mental health centers?
Pete Earley: Crisis Intervention Teams are a great solution when it comes to educating the public and law enforcement. Sadly, more police deal with persons with mental illnesses than psychiatrists. CIT is international now. Look for the Memphis Model. Remember that while privacy laws may stop the police from telling you information, you can always tell them what you know about your loved one’s mental disorder.



Kalamazoo, MI: Why say the shooting in Tuscan was because the man had a mental disorder versus him choosing to willfully commit this crime? Further, if it is so easy for us to draw this type of conclusion for this man, shouldn’t we just say that anyone who commits a crime is mentally ill or has some type of psychiatric disorder?
Pete Earley: Not everyone who commits a crime has a severe mental disorder such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The DMS, which defines mental disorders, separates brain disorders which are believed to be caused by malfunctions in the brain (the heart can get sick and so can the brain) vs. psychopathic behavior. There is a difference and the court and medical profession recognize this. Someone who is sick through no fault of their own is different from someone who is anti-social.



Frederick, Maryland: Where can families go for help, a hotline of sorts, to stage an intervention for one of their mentally dusturbed adult family members? It’s often like dealing with a child, the only difference is, by law, children are at the mercy of their parents or guardians. Adults must admit on their own that there is a problem. This doesn’t typically happen.
Pete Earley: Contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness for advice or Mental Health America or DBPS, another support group. If you want to see what your state law is about involuntary commitment, try the Treatment Advocacy Center. Most communities have a mobile crisis response team that will come to your house and evaluate someone. Also, and this is important, find out if your police department has CIT trained officers. Look for help from what is called a peer-to-peer specialist who can help you.



Thibodaux louisiana: What does an aging parent do to provide for disabled child after parent death when there is no other family?
Pete Earley: Again, contact NAMI and ask for help about this. There are legal steps that you can take to ensure that your loved one continues to get help after you are gone.



Wilmington, N.C.: My son is in complete denial of his illness, schizophrinia. How can I get him to accept his illness and be compliant with taking meds? I am told a cognitive theripist may help. If so, how do I find a good one in this area?
Pete Earley: You might want to read a book by my friend, Xavier Amador called “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Your Help.” It is one of the best at answering this question. I had a tough time with my own son. He finally came around but not after four major breaks and major run-ins with the law. If you can get a good case manager involved, that can be extremely helpful. Find out if your community has a peer-to-peer specialist. Peers are persons with mental disorders who talk to someone with a mental disorder. They are FANTASTIC and can help. It is like having a sponsor in AA. Forcing compliance is difficult. I sympathize. With my son, I never mention meds anymore. He knows how I feel, and badgering him doesn’t help. Now I try to be his partner, as much as his parent. Sounds cliche but it is important. Good luck.



Rome NY: My 23-year-old daughter seems to have two lives/personalities. One good life, caring, fun loving, hard working and involved with her family. Knows how to express herself in a normal manner. The side she tries to hide, domestic violence, constant/continual lies, finances, criminal friends, disappearing for long periods of time, yelling, screaming and cursing when we ask her a question about her secret life is taking its toll on our family. She will not seek professional care, since “we all have the problem” not her. She’s living at home and enjoying the best of both worlds. Believe this is wrong, but don’t want her to get worse into this dark world. This is the third time we’ve been through trying to improve her life. It does not seem to be working. Any advice is appreciated.
Pete Earley: This is a tough one. People told me to practice tough love. But I was unwilling to watch my son end up homeless or to shut him out. Again, you should join NAMI and try Family to Family. It is a course specially for this problem — helping parents deal with adult children with mental disorders. Also groups such as NAMI and MHA can help you because other parents have been down this road. They can advise you. That is my best advice — turn to other parents. You will discover that there are a lot of us out there.



Bethlehem, PA: What can we do to get things changed. Elected officials don’t take mental illness seriously.
Pete Earley: Perhaps now they will, but I also had great hopes for change after the Va. Tech massacre. It is paramount that we keep the pressure on our elected officials to fix our mental health system. The first big step is for persons, including parents, to come out in public and demand changes. We should not be ashamed that our loved ones got sick. Would we be embarrassed about cancer? We must educate the public and we need to tell our politicians that we vote and matter. I was told by a Va. governor that we have no clout because we have no votes and no PACS. This is why we must speak out after tragedies such as this and remind the public that people are suffering, a limited number of people who are sick are dangerous, and we are wasting human potential and millions in tax dollars on a system that is badly broken. President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Illness found a “fractured” system that doesn’t work. Funny, that mental health was not mentioned much during the great Obama health-care debates. That is a signal of how poorly we have communicated the need for better and effective care. The simple answer is to remind your politicians that this is a priority that matters.



Clarksville, TN: How do you cope with a teenager (now 33) who started teaching the therapy and classes after 5 days into an in-house treatment facility (he was 17 at the time so we could send him) — he was smarter, and still is, than everyone on the staff — after a 7 year stint in a federal prison for selling drugs, he is now “presumed” normal as he has his own business and has completed a professional license that the general public would deem awesome (to go from down to the top) — however, I know now that his problem is not drugs but he is narcissitic to the maximum(why didn’t any of the mental health people we took him to realize this?) and he surrounds himself with people that constantly tell him how wonderful he is, including his new wife — he is estranged from his whole family who have been used and abused to the maximum for 20 years and thought they were practicing “tough love” for many years.
Pete Earley: I’m sounding like a broken record here. My advice is NAMI’s Family to Family. You may not be able to change a person, especially one with a narcissistic personality disorder. All you can do is change how you react to that person and limit the amount of hurt that he causes you. Good luck.



Davenport, FL: I am grandmother who takes care of a grandchild after school and on holidays. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I’ve told his parents that when he gets upset he threatens to hurt himself or others. The parents tell me that’s the only way he knows how to express himself; he is not able to just say, I’m angry and don’t like what’s happening right now. My question is: Who will take this seriously? What can I do? Thank you.
Pete Earley: I appreciate your question because it shows that there are many kinds of mental problems that can result in violence and danger, including the one that you mentioned. Autism is not considered a mental illness, nor is Downs Syndrome and yet persons with these issues also can become dangerous or difficult to control. It sounds as if you need to have a long talk with the parents and convince them that recognizing a problem does not mean criticism of their child. Best talk to an expert here who can offer helpful advice.



Atlanta, GA: In retrospect, do you think your son showed signs of mental illness in adolescence, or during his earlier teenage years? If so, what were the symptoms and how did they differ from typical teenage behavior?
Pete Earley: I do not think that he showed obvious signs. He was very artistic and no easily influenced by his peers. He walked to his own drummer. But I thought that was a good thing. It wasn’t until he was in college and under tremendous stress that his actions made us nervous. He stopped eating, complained that food didn’t taste good, began drinking beer a lot which was out of character, and then progressively got worse. I remember his first psychiatrist telling us that if we were lucky our son was using drugs. If not, he had a mental disorder. I was stunned because I felt that drugs were worse. I was wrong. Many of the behaviors associated with adolescence also can be signs of impending mental disorders That is why it is so important to keep communication open and also be aware of what your child is doing. The fact that Jared Loughner had a shrine with a skull in the backyard would have given me pause. But that is me. Try to look for alcohol and drug abuse. Those are danger signs. Try to look for isolation. If all of the child’s friends suddenly stop calling, that could be another signal. But, no, there were no clear signs until my son became obviously psychotic.



Wilmington, N.C.: My son has been in three mental health hospitals and served three jail sentances all in the past eight months. He has been released after three days from facilities because of the 72 hour law. He entered into a mental health court program and since then has spent more time in jail than getting the help he needs! After months of home arrest with my husband and I, we are exhausted and frustrated with the system and the lack of help for the mentally ill in this state. The next move for my son is on the street unless we or someone can come up with a solution. We are parents that love and care for our son and have done everything in our power to help him. The system here has worked against our efforts to help him and it looks hopeless. I am told that the funds are being cut even more in this state and that only the worst cases are getting any attention at all. I feel very sorry for those parents in Arizona and I think people should look at the whole picture before making judgements.
Pete Earley: Amen, and thank you. USA TODAY got more than 300 comments about my article after it was posted online. Many showed a complete ignorance about mental health. But I received several dozen personal emails from other parents such as you. Believe me, what you are experiencing is much more typical than the public knows. That is why we must speak out, join NAMI and other support groups, and fight for reforms. As a parent, you have discovered what I have seen — that we often are the enemy. If we want to force our children into treatment, mental health professionals often accuse us of trying dump our kids and problems on them. Civil rights lawyers fight us and accuse us of being overbearing and worse. If we don’t fight to get them into the system, then we end up being accused of being bad parents, especially when something horrible happens. We are blamed for mental illnesses and bad parenting. It is frustrating. But have hope. And remember that while we suffer, it is our mentally ill loved ones who suffer even more, especially if they are delusional. My son had four major breakdowns and all of US went through hell. But now he is doing great. He took the first steps and we were ready when he finally was. He also had a tremendous case manager who is responsible for changing his life. She made the difference and I thank God for her every morning. There are programs out there that work. The key is getting the stars lined up — finding a great program and getting your loved one into it and having him/her want to get better. I understand why some parents and loved ones give up. I do. But for your son’s sake, I hope you can help him move forward.



West Columbia, SC: Just read your article in today’s USA TODAY. Bless you, and please continue your advocacy for mental illness.
Pete Earley: Thank you. But remember that I didn’t have a choice. I would gladly go back to the days when I was largely ignorant about mental health and my son was well. But that is the past and thinking about going backward is counterproductive. I used to wish my son would be like he was. That was stupid. He is now a new, different and much changed person. He actually is a better person in many ways now that he has his symptoms under control. I am lucky because of that. He has grown with his illness despite all of the horrors that we endured. I am proud of him. He is a peer to peer specialist now helping others. But remember my son became ill. That is why I became an advocate. The people who work in the mental health system, oftentimes for little money or public rewards, are the real heroes here especially if they do not have a mentally ill loved ones. I salute them.



Montana: Hi Mr. Earley. Thank you so much for the well-written and informative article. My cousin has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I know his mother was kind, loving and attentive. His father is and was a hard working and honest man. The parents I am sure were not perfect, but most of us would have been quite happy with the both of them. They did not do anything to create my cousin’s mental illness. It would be easy to blame his parents. “Easy” being the key word. I am so so sad for you, your family and your son. I know a little bit about how families take an emotional thrashing from society, when mental illness strikes. I have come to the conclusion that we are all like flowers, truly unique and individual. Some of us are dandelions which I have heard can be made into wonderful wine, though most of us use weed killer to remove them. Some may be like roses, with sharp thorns protruding. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “normal.” Only a persons learned ability to function within society, adhering to certain demanded social perameters. Recently a high school coach was found to have been targeting young teenage girls (grooming…) with sexting and photographs via cell phone. I had to ask myself, “Is this mental illness?” Truly deviant, but where do we draw the line with mental illness? I just do not know. I think that’s the answer. We don’t know “why,” someone is mentally ill, so we take the easy road and blame the parents. I think the blaming is done because society demands blame be placed somewhere. I feel deeply sad for the parents of this young man. Thank you for stepping up to the plate on this issue. It is almost as if the public would burn the parents at the stake for being witches. Primitive thinking, and without compassion. That truly concerns me.
Pete Earley: The psychiatric manual that defines mental disorders is currently being written and updated. As you wrote determining what is an illness and what is something else is difficult. If we ever develop a blood test or some other medical way to determine that a person has bipolar disorder or schzophrenia or some other severe illness, then society might feel more compassion. But until we learn more about the brain, we are stuck with diagnoses that often are incomplete, difficult to determine and not too helpful. What is a mental illness? That is a question that we could spend hours and hours debating. As a loving parent, I can’t tell you the medical answer. But I can tell you when my son is sick.



prescott, az: From the news accounts that I’ve read, I’m assuming that Jared lived with his father. Dad was well aware of Jared’s problems in school and the job market. If you are going to give someone shelter in your home, I think you need to have an awareness about what they are doing during with their time, especially if it is your child. Every parent knows that teens and older children are not inclined to freely share their feelings with parents, and will often tell them what they want to hear in order to keep them off their backs. But parents also know that what their kid tells them is not always the truth, especially in this case with Jared being tossed from school and losing jobs. I’ll bet Dad was getting asked to provide some spending money in addition to a place to stay. I wonder what would have happened to Jared if Dad had confronted him after he was expelled from school instead of continuing to shelter him and unwittingly giving him a more comfortable environment and possibly the means to plan his attack. Maybe parents should be held accountable for their children’s actions if they continue to shelter them past the age of majority. I have 4 sons. Two are still teens. They know that once they graduate high school, they have to move on. I still care, but they can’t live at home anymore unless they are going to school full time. If that’s the case, they must obey my rules of conduct and keep their grades up. Most kids want to get away from their parents influence as soon as they can, usually before they are prepared to do it sucessfully. So there are bound to be some bumps along the road to independence. But the parent needs to be aware of the child’s behavior especially if the parent is still supporting the child. In Jared’s case, with a possible personality disorder involved, it sounds like Dad reacted too late, which means he wasn’t paying attention.
Pete Earley: I don’t think we know enough to draw many conclusions about the parents. We don’t know what they were told. We don’t know if they might have their own issues. We don’t know if they tried and were blocked by our system or if they didn’t care and ignored warning signs and being told that they needed to do something. Generally, I agree with what you have written. As a parent with two adults still living at home and seeking jobs and independence, I try to keep a close eye on them and their actions while still respecting their privacy. All of us have to decide what is tough love and what we can and do tolerate. But the point of my article remains the same: dealing with adults who have a mental illness is difficult and even parents who recognize that their loved one is sick often find their hands tied when it comes to forcing them to get help. Regardless of what we learn from the Loughner case, I hope we will recognize two things — that we need to make our mental health system more accessible and that the role of parents with mentally ill children is much more complicated than many understand. We need to stop focusing on dangerousness as the only criteria for forcing someone into treatment and find a better way to protect civil liberties but also get people treatment when they need it. That is an important discussion that needs to take place. We need to begin adequately funding mental health services so there are no long delays. We need to fight stigma so that there is no shame in helping someone who becomes sick. We need to have a system where involuntary commitment is the last alternative and rarely used because people get help voluntarily. We also need a system that recognizes that if people are sick and don’t realize it, that we need to help them rather than letting them roam our streets in pain and psychotic. We have failed to develop this system, in part, because there are no easy answers.



Phoenix, AZ: As a parent of a mentally-ill adult, I feel tremendous compassion toward the family of this unfortunate person. We have been unable to get the care we want for my son because, at 20 years old, he is an adult and unless he permits it, we can’t get info about his condition, and more importantly we can’t give information about his progress to his doctors. Unless he was harming us or harming himself physically, no one would listen to us. In his situation (OCD/anxiety) he refuses all help, including all meds. So much is kept from us, we actually have no idea how he is really doing, even though we are all in the same home. I feel like an astronomer, watching planets from space and making guesses.
Pete Earley: You have expressed what all of us feel very poignantly. Just remember that while privacy laws may stop us from getting information from doctors and others, they do not keep us from providing information to doctors and others. When doctors have refused to tell me anything, I am polite and say, that is fine, but now you need to listen to me because if you don’t and something happens to my son, I will come after you legally. I have even known of parents who have faxed statements to judges and hospitals. It is an uphill fight and sadly, the parents are often the ones left to pick up the pieces even when they are not included in the process. That’s wrong and one of the changes that we need to make. Have you tried an advance directive?



Comment from Pete Earley: Thank you for joining this discussion today. Sorry I couldn’t get to all of your questions and comments. If there is any good that can come from the horrible shootings in Tucson, it will be that we as a society will look at our mental health system and begin debating and making changes that will improve it. I welcome your participating in that debate and your advocacy for change. Thank you.

























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. desperate family member says

    Help!!! yes I said help.. I am currently trying to find help for a 23 year old bipolar nephew. Our family is in desperate search for getting him help. I am writing for my sister who is also looking. We have just involuntarily admitted him to a mental health facilty and now are not allowed to get any information. Until this episoide we never dreamed it would be this hard. We are desperately looking for some advocate or a person to help guide us through the laws and the system. We are desperately scouring the internet for a real person to help us with a real problem. We cannot find a bed for him and we are so afraid.. please give us information not only for him but for my sister as she falls into this dark abis of bureacracy..

  2. Lois Earley says

    If you could post what state you’re in, I’m sure someone will help you. If you’re in AZ, I’d be glad to help in any way I can. But for other states, I’d be clueless as I’m really only familiar with the system in AZ cause it’s where I live & what I’ve had direct experience with.

  3. desperate family member says

    I am in Michigan and we are talking with NAMI but still there is a serious problems, begining with the system… we are in the middle of our crisis but what Pete said hit home.. Our Kenny is a wonderful sensitive loving intelligent young man and we as his family cannot find him decent help. Police, hosiptals, doctors, the Privacy Laws hinder us from getting him the help he needs. There are no beds available in the state and unless he committs that crime. That could be our family on the news and for everyone that blames the parents look in the mirror it could be you.

  4. I “watched” that session live. You did an amazing job, considering the really awkward format. I hope USA Today rethinks that method of conducting interviews.

  5. Spencer Va here….Hah! You lied! I knew it was an option when I was sitting at the local jail talking with a magistrate via video TV who was telling me that I had spoiled my son by giving him everything he wanted. But I prevailed and he ordered an evaluation and the local police picked him up and took him to the hospital. An intake nurse interviewed my “calm” son and within hours the local police pulled up to my house….dropped him off… and left. This was after he had pulled all the fuses in my car after an episode. (I’m being minimal.) I kept him out of jail when he was 17….I got on the stand and told the judge he had a “stupid” criminal on his hands, but if he sent him to jail, he would have a smart one – they sentenced him to a boot camp where he excelled – but didn’t diagnose him. I pushed forward for a diagnosis – “Dry Drunk Syndrome”. Well what does one do with that? Shrugged professional shoulders. Another episode I drove him to what I thought was another “program” – it was a homeless center. They kicked everyone out during the day and gave them a place to sleep at night…..I told him to get back in the car. We then researched a center in South Carolina – I took him there. That turned out to be a place where they junked cars to pay for the owner’s Harleys – plural. And gave them Jesus.
    The last episode he left on his own. He knows. I told him he needs medication and counseling.He is on Effexor (sp?) – he sleeps most of the time but he knows it stops his rage. He keeps making excuses about the counseling. This diagnosis is PTS from his childhood – he likes that – it’s not his fault. He lives? at a buddies house. He can’t keep a job, he lost his license to a DUI, he doesn’t pay any bills, is horribly depressed. He has never known happiness. He is intelligent and talented and deserves a chance a life. Help me…..I am paralyzed…..

  6. I am too a parent of a 22 year old son with mental illness.
    He always had challenges in his life starting from preschool with ‘ADHD/Anxiety issues’. We lived in South Florida for a while and have been living in the Portland, Maine area for the last 12 years. My son has been in and out of psychologist/psychiatrist offices his whole life. Always had trouble ‘fitting in’ and is/was socially awkward. He never got into any drugs or alcohol. A smart, caring kid, never had many friends; however, all of OUR friends loved him.
    He went away to college where his illness manifested itself and had experienced his first psychotic break. He exhibited bizarre behavior which my husband and I had no clue as to what was really going on. We were disturbed and also very frightened. Maybe we were in denial. My son completed his second year of college and decided he wanted to join the navy (the plan was for him to come home for the summer and get a job). He never ever mentioned his desire to join the military. During this period, he withdrew all of his money from his bank account and stayed in motel rooms in the area where he attended college. My husband and I were desperate to find him and when we did, he would not talk to us (at that time, we did call the local crisis line but did not have the nerve to actually have someone intervene). He would not talk to us. We thought, okay, the Navy, maybe this will be good for him. WRONG. He was recruited and sent up to Great Lakes where after 5 days, stuck him in the hospital I believe on the premises. Of course, because of HIPAA, we could not get ANY information. We called everyday and tried to get someone to give us any information of his status. Even the recruitment officer would not say anything. I had a notebook logged with information of all the people I tried to get in contact with but no one would give me any information. My son finally called one day extremely agitated and said he was getting an honorable discharge. He was in the hospital (‘Ship 17’ — which is a holding bin for anyone who is mentally or physically unable to serve and is waiting for discharge). It took a month for the navy to release him. Finally they stuck him on a train in Chicago to catch a bus where he was supposed to go ‘home’. He got off the wrong stop on the train and ended up on a park bench and then found himself at a police station asking for help. He finally called my husband and I to ask if we can fly him home to Maine. He got home in one piece and finally got him into treatment. What is the most disturbing to me is the fact that the Navy discards a mentally ill person onto the streets of Chicago; our military at its best? Anything could have happened to him. I know my son is an adult (19 at the time), but mentally ill. I wonder how many times this has happened to other people.
    He has been living with my husband and I and is still being treated. He has been attending a local college part time and is taking it very slowly. He suffered another psychotic break 6 months ago and I did have to call the local police as he was ‘a danger to himself or other people’. It was the hardest thing I ever did but I’m glad I did. Now, he is more aware of his condition and so are we.
    I learned SO MUCH after his first break. My husband and I attended NAMI in Portland, Maine and took the Family To Family course. It was the best thing we ever did. NAMI was extremely useful in educating us in all facets of mental illness as a consumer and a caregiver. At the time, we had nowhere to turn. I urge everyone to please support this very important organization. Our lives have improved greatly from NAMI.
    Thank you so much for voicing your story and it’s people like you who can help make a difference. Glen Close as you know started another organization, Bring Change To Mind. I pray that our legislators will rethink cutting costs on mental illness.

  7. I am a caregiver to a son who was inflicted with Bipolar Disorder at the young age of 18, honor student, future doctor in the making, then boom BP1. It was so blanant that he was different and ill. We sought care, right from the get go, it was no easy task. We have called CIT trained Officers over 10 times and they came and took him to so many different ER’s, actually we probably have been in everyone in our state, only to have him released 72 hours later, so many times I have lost count. With all the budget cuts, economy and lack of funding, there is just no place left to take a loved one for more then 3 days of care. How is this working, it is not cost effective and serves no purpose on stabilizing. Change is needed and it is needed quickly, all folks with a mental illness can lead a good decent life, but, not without the care they so deserve, but, its just not there to get. Its time to reopen ER’s with phys care and to have mental health facilities in hospitals again. Folks, have to remember the inflicted mentally ill person, does not want to be sick, they want to lead a normal life just like everyone does. I bet you there are so many families in our Great USA that have been trying to get help for their loved one but could not find it. I find it so sad that so many great loving people her are jailed due to making poor choices in a mentally ill state would not of commited that crime if they could of gotten intervention, mental health care and had insurance these crimes probably would of never ever been committed. How does someone in an unstabile state of mind make a stabile choice. Its proven that with medications they all could be stabiled and free from a brain that hurts them.

  8. I am a mother who is desperate about not being able to help her son. He was an outstanding student, interacted well with many friends, he is very smart……….But, his my husband (his dad) had an accident 3 years ago and has severe brain damage. Michael(my son) changed and became a new person. He began to display anger towards me; He began to call me names; he had access to our bank accounts and he took a large amount of money; he left school (university)………etc. One night, one of the most difficult nights of my life, I had to change the locks in the house. It was either that or call the police to report him for his violent physical behavior towards me. I tried to get help from him. First, some family members talked to him, but it did not work out. He then agreed to go to family therapy with me; family therapy did not worked out either because he is full of anger for his change of life style. He is gentle with his dad. He blames me because I have became depressed. He is smart, but he believes that I am depressed because I am weak. He refuses to be informed about depression; his ideas about depression are reinforced by my own mother who finds that depression is also a weakness and not an illness. I do not know what to do for him. He is living with my mother. He is working doing volunteer work. I still have to pay for his expensive car because it is under my husband’s name. Life went from being “very good” to being a total nightmare. He needs help but if he is not willing to work in therapy, there is nothing that I can do. I think he is depressed. He denies any S/H ideas,therefore, I can not do an involuntary psychiatric admission. I find myself hopeless and helpless. Now, all I do is pray for God to help him, to guide him……….. I have tried everything in the book. It is so difficult.