A Dangerous Tipping Point: Hurried Laws, Increased Stigma

I want to thank everyone who has posted a comment here since Friday about what I should tell a congressional subcommittee when I speak tomorrow (Tuesday) on Capitol Hill. I’ve  received a number of detailed and thoughtful suggestions. As I was going through them, I was reminded of just how wise many of you are. It’s one reason why I enjoy writing this blog. I hope you will share your comments with your local, state,  and national elected leaders.

I was told over the weekend that I will be given a total of  three minutes to speak. The  subcommittee will then ask questions.  Obviously, I can only make a few key points in such a short period.  However, I will  be allowed to submit written testimony and  I intend to submit  most of the comments that you have posted. I want your voices heard!

Pat Milam will be speaking with me along with Liza Long, the mother who wrote the now famous Internet blog, I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.  We are the three parents who’ve been invited.

The subcommittee has invited the following professionals to make statements: Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Harold Koplewicz, M.D., President, Child Mind Institute; E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., Founder, Treatment Advocacy Center; Michael Welner, M.D., Founder and Chairman, The Forensic Panel; and  Michael Fitzpatrick, MSW, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Over the weekend, I sent the subcommittee an email suggesting that it also invite persons with mental illnesses to appear before it. I’ve not heard back.

This will be my second time testifying and third time speaking about mental illness to members of Congress.  Because of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., I believe we have reached a tipping point.  Elected officials are finally listening. The question is: how will our state legislators and members of Congress react?

Jessie Close recently wrote a blog  for me about whether her rights to keep her medical records private are going to be trampled by the flurry of  bills being introduced in state legislatures.  Dr. Dinah Miller, the Baltimore psychiatrist who contributes to the blog, SHRINK RAP, responded to Jessie’s comments with a blog of her own.

Dr. Miller and I both feel strongly that  our elected leaders are rushing to pass laws that have not been well thought-out and will further stigmatize persons with mental disorders. Many of the laws being introduced call for drawing up lists for law enforcement agencies of persons with mental disorders, including individuals with no history of violence. No one seems to be scrutizing those bills. Meanwhile, anything that suggests banning the sale of assault weapons, large capacity magazines or closing the “gun show” loophole are drawing fierce resistance.

Dr. Miller and I have an editorial in USA TODAY this morning about the problem of legislators hurrying new laws into place. You can read it here.

Last week, Dr. Miller testified in Maryland about the more than 40 bills that have been introduced in that state as a result of the Newtown shootings. If you want to get discouraged, you should read her account of her day waiting to testify and what happened when she finally was able to speak.

What I found interesting about Dr. Miller’s experiences at the Maryland capitol is her observation that the pro-gun forces were out in mass. Speakers who wanted to talk about mental illness and barriers in getting meaningful treatment were scarce and, based on Dr. Miller’s personal experiences, not made to feel welcome.

Thank you Dr. Miller for persevering and testifying. Now more than ever, it is vital for us to speak out ! If we don’t, I fear  persons with mental illnesses are going to become easy scapegoats.

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. we are here, We Are Here, WE ARE HERE. Thank you Pete! I think we are getting louder. Time to pump up the volume!

  2. Please continue to ask people with MI be involved in these opportunities and select some from the mid-section of this nation too!  Rural America is  SO left out and community mental health agencies are suffering from the strain of increased need for services!  Thank you Pete for all you continue to do and my best to you for success…hope they listen and absorb your words.

  3. I can’t say I’m excited Liza Long is representing us parents.  But I hope she will say how difficult it is to get treatment for children.  Not adolescents – children.  Yes, it’s hard to get treatment for adolescents and young adults.  Lord knows I know that.  But the stigma that Congress is spearheading is increasing doctor’s – the ones might be able to monitor and treat children that could be exhibiting the early signs of a severe mental illness – hesitation to treat children because they don’t want the child “saddled” with a diagnosis.  

    Tell them that mental illness(in the form of suicide) kids more children between 10-19 than cancer.

    Tell them that public schools that receive federal funds falsely tell parents that our children don’t qualify for IEPs. 

    Tell them that there are 120,000 gun shops in the US, and less than 7,000 child psychiatrists.

    Tell them that when we do finally break down and let our children take meds, they have to take meds that have had little to no testing as to their efficacy in children.

    Tell them that their parents lose more work time than parents of any other disabled children, and more of our families are at or below the poverty line because many of us can’t work due to our children’s severe mental illness, and the fact that we can’t get any help finding services, finding doctors, and fighting schools.

    Tell them that our children can and do recover when they receive early diagnosis and comprehensive, coordinated treatment and education.

    Thanks for speaking for us.

  4. ePluribusUnum says

    Thank you Pete, on behalf of all Americans who had,have, and will have a mental illness, for suggesting that one of us be present at an important meeting that concerns us. It is telling that none of the mentally ill were initially invited by the sub-committee. After all, we practice government of the people, for the people, by the people. The mentally ill are people too. Maybe they just forgot! .

  5. Terri Wasilenko says

    Pete, that is a great idea about submitting written testimony from those who blogged this weekend.  I am confident that you have prioritized key points to get across to the subcommittee tomorrow. Let’s hope this tips in our favor (persons with mental illness, their families and friends and mental health advocates).
    In reference to state legislatures hurrying through gun control laws, NYS was the first to do this.  Although I did not attend the rally in Albany, the newspapers and TV stations showed large crowds with protest signs and yelling chants against gun control and for personal rights.  It makes me wonder if there were any mental health advocates protesting (along side) against the NYS gun safety law. Here in Cayuga County, our Legislature voted (last week) to repeal the new gun law. Although I do not think their objections had much to do with mental health concern.  Many other counties are doing the same (repealing) across the state.
    I wish more individuals with mental health issues could testify at these forums about what it is like living with a brain disease nobody wants to hear about.
    Best wishes,

  6. www.suepeasebanitt.com says

    We need to diagnose and treat traumatized and disaffected youth at much earlier stages. We need to acknowledge the reality of the prevalence of child abuse in creating emotional, mental and physical disorders. The government needs to own and fully compensate victims of their own black ops ritual abuse and mind control programs. These folks are coming out of the woodwork and need real skilled help now!

    • Child abuse is a big killer. Not only is it cyclical , it is a heinous crime that routinely goes unpunished. It causes irreversible damage. The growing developing brains of babies, toddlers and youth, are severly affected in their ability to grow and mature normally under contant abuse. This is scientific fact.It produces a type of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anger, and can aggravate to create mental illness in an otherwise normal child.
      One preventative solution is to require parental liscensure, as requiring humane treatment of one’s children would not interfere w/ civil liberties. No one has the liberty to abuse and harm children.The fees for liscensing could be put toward parental education and treatment for damaged children. It would also curb the welfare family from birthing children for bigger checks.
      Treating our sick and defenseless is the most noble of a society’s actions.
      But preventing sickness and enabling the weak to thrive is the hallmark of a great society.It takes a rare and brave altruism to aspire to bring one’s humanity to this level of functioning.
      Our United States is in a position to lead toward such progress.  

  7. Terri Wasilenko says

    I was able to watch the hearing on CSpan this afternoon. The 2 1/2 hours flew by.
    The discussion show cased valid talking points about mental illness. I hope this forum is the start of real significant change for all people who are affected in some way by mental illness.

  8. I listened live on Tuesday the entire time. I want to tell everyone I know to listen after the fact (including my legislators). It was very powerful stuff, to say the least. Bravo, to you three parents. I only hope I can someday be as brave and eloquent as you three were. I could identify with every single point you made, and the compassion, and passion with which you spoke. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You three, and especially with Mr. Fuller Torrey’s comments, gave anyone listening the most concise, but heartfelt, view of exactly how we’re failing those in such need, and their families, and then, just as concisely, exactly what we can do to fix it. AOT with access to highly trained and competent care will save money, but most importantly, countless lives. I firmly believe it could have saved my son from the last 5 horrible years before he died by suicide at 29 in 2008. We, his family, are left without a beautiful soul with so much yet to contribute to the world. Although I now hear story after story of parents who went, and are going through exactly what we did, it is still so unbelievable to me. I still wake up daily, remembering, and wondering why he was released from hospitals time after time, to my care, when he was clearly still so ill, and with virtually no follow up. Thanks for continuing to fight the fight, Pete. You three parents are my heros.

    • Terri Wasilenko says

      I am sorry for your loss. I hope you found some comfort while listening to the congressional subcommittee forum.