EVERYDAY HEROES: A Photographer, Cartoonist, and Two Parents Speak Out About Mental Illness

I told the story of three “everyday heroes” last Friday who are speaking out about mental illness. In today’s blog,  I’m going to tell you about a three new ones and a familiar face.  They are Jenn Ackerman, Chato B. Stewart, Susan Rose, and Pat Milam.

Let’s start with photographer Jenn Ackerman who is responsible for the short clip (above) which is well worth watching.

“My primary goal with TRAPPED  is to accurately portray the reality of living with mental illness for prisoners in an effort to call attention to the increased imprisonment of the mentally ill in the US,” Jenn explains. After reading an article about how our jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums, she contacted the warden at the Kentucky State Reformatory and eventually gained his JennAckerman2013Portrait-240x300trust. The result was unprecedented access to the reformatory’s mental health unit and the resulting photographs and film are harrowing. Jenn has done with TRAPPED what I did in my book CRAZY. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Chato B. Stewart uses his considerable artistic skill and humor to draw cartoons about mental illness. I first saw his work when he did a portrait of my good friend, Dr. Tracey Skale, who he chose as a mental health hero.  Stewart says his motto is ” humor gives help, hope and healing.”  It has helped him deal with bipolar disorder which has caused havoc in his personal life. Besides drawing cartoons, Stewart is a certified peer specialist in Florida which enables him to help others with mental health diagnoses.

I recommended Stewart as an artist when Pat Milam told me that he wanted someone to draw a cartoon that would illustrate the absurdity of what happened to his son who committed suicide. After I told Pat’s story on  this blog, he was asked to testify before a congressional chatosubcommittee. He testified that doctors only seemed interested in treating his son as long as they were getting paid by insurance. As soon as those funds ran out, Pat’s son was discharged.  Pat has continued to tell his story in his native Louisiana on local television.

I met Susan Rose when I was asked by the Rev. Martie McMane to speak about mental illness during a Sunday service at the First Congregational Church in Boulder.  SusanSusan sent me a copy of a song that she had written and performed about her struggles to help her son with his mental disorder.

A photographer, a consumer who is a cartoonist, and two advocate parents are using their voices and talents to chip away at stigma.



Next: my friend and advocate Dr. Delaney Ruston uses her documentary skills to expose mental health failings on a global scale, in a follow up to her award winning first PBS documentary, UNLISTED: A Story of Schizophrenia and I pay tribute to an attorney who is fighting to defend mentally ill inmates being held in our nation’s most secure federal penitentiary. Also in my third and final tribute to heroes a mother who goes beyond the call of duty to help others.

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. It is shameful that no one has made comment. The video and information is very disturbing. People/organizations that are advocates for change are at a loss to know what more they can do. It obviously is not working to more the system for the good! God Bless those that do what they can do to help.

  2. Terri Wasilenko says

    Hi Pete. Sat down at my computer this afternoon to read your Monday blog. I liked Susan’s song and can hear it being song at worship services.
    Jenn’s video was painful and sobering to watch……. i liked Chato’s psychology disorders solution cartoon and blog. Looking forward to reading what you will present next Monday.