No Laughing Matter


 I believe all of us should do our best to fight  stigma. It might be as simple as not laughing when someone tells a joke that belittles a person with a mental disorder. Or it could be as bold as launching a boycott of a business whose commercials or product names are stigmatizing. 

This week, Karen Easter, in Knoxville, Tennessee, became appalled when she saw an offensive video clip that was posted on the website of  the Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper. The clip had been taken with a cell phone and it showed an adult man talking off his clothes and walking down the center of a busy shopping mall. The story that accompanied the clip reported that the man had removed his clothing because he believed there were “snakes in his pants and he had pain in his legs.” You could hear the person who took the video laughing at the sight and the website story immediately attracted a score of sarcastic comments along the ilk of  “spitting snakes” and other sexual innuendos.

The caption called the man a “streaker” but when you  read the story, it became clear that this young man had a mental problem. He was taken by the police to a local mental health center. 

Karen found the video and comments repulsive. She felt it was cruel for people to ridicule someone who was confused. The video seemed reminiscent of a time in England when the curious could pay a fee to enter a mental asylum to watch “lunatics” who often were poked and prodded for amusement.

Karen called the newspaper to complain. The first day, she got nowhere. But she didn’t give up and eventually she spoke to an editor who agreed that the video was in poor taste and removed it.

Whenever someone complains in these incidents, critics begin shouting about how people are too sensitive or too politically correct. After all, this sort of stuff is just fun. Even people who are involved in mental health often claim that these situations aren’t worth mentioning. There are bigger fish to fry.

Yes, there are. But I am grateful that Karen spoke out and used this incident to educate the newspaper and, hopefully, others. I believe we should always speak out in these situations.  And I can assure you that if that video clip had been taken of one of my family members or someone I knew and cared about, it would not have seemed trivial.

Thank you Karen!

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. Kristincaproni1 says

    I said something the other day that I regretted 10 minutes later. It was minor but still….I thought I was more enlightened. Foot in mouth, God please help me be better than that!

  2. The world needs more Karen Easters. We need more people like you Pete to continue to speak out against stigma “and” the fact that those with “serious mental illnesses” are drowning in a world of civil liberties.

  3. It’s never wrong to do the right thing (no matter how intimidating or impossible it seems) and to do it with tact. May I also suggest that all of us advocate “wheels” become a little more squeaky …

  4. Karen Easter is a brilliant advocate. But what she fought was ‘discrimination’ not ‘stigma’. There is no stigma to having a mental illness. There is discrimination.