FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: Death of Advocate Glenn Koons


FROM MY FILES FRIDAY:  Two years ago, I published a blog about Glenn Koons, a well-known peer specialist and advocate in Pennsylvania who had died after vanishing for several days. Authorities later said there was no foul play and his death was accidental. As a tribute, the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania set up a scholarship in his name.  Unfortunately, no one was ever able to determine why Glenn vanished before he died.  Some speculated that he had become depressed because of a recent relapse. He had been held up as a recovery model and possibly thought he had failed. I am not certain what happened in his case, but no one should ever feel badly about having a relapse. It can happen. I am reprinting this blog to help keep Glenn’s memory alive. He was an inspiration to others. His passing also is a reminder that we need to be vigilant when it comes to providing services and support to individuals with mental disorders, including those who are in recovery.  

Death of an Advocate   Sept. 19 2011

I first met Glenn Koons when I was invited to speak at a luncheon in Montgomery County, Pa., being hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It was one of the first speeches that I delivered after publication of my book and before my talk, NAMI Board Member Carol Caruso introduced me to Glenn. I was immediately struck by his easy-going manner. Carol bragged that Glenn was one of the first NAMI trained  Peer-to-Peer mentors in the entire nation. Glenn and I spoke for several minutes and I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and enthusiasm.

Our paths continued to cross during the coming years at various NAMI meetings and conventions. I was always happy to see Glenn and was thrilled when I learned that he had been one of only four NAMI peers who had been invited to the White House by President Obama to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.   Glenn wrote about the event for a NAMI blog.

A few weeks ago, I was asked by NAMI’s Darcy Taylor to write an article for NAMI’s VOICES publication. In my article, I mentioned three “consumers” who have inspired me. They are  Dr. Fred Frese, Diana Kern, and Glenn Koons.

The day after I submitted my article, an email arrived telling me that Glenn was dead.

According to an article  published in the Berks County News, the police department in Sinking Spring, Pa., reported on July 26th that Glenn had disappeared. The police said there was no reason to suspect foul play and added that Glenn had not been taking his medication. He’d left his wallet, two cell phones, cash and his ID on his bed in his apartment and had vanished.  The police and his concerned family asked for help in finding Glenn.

His body was found on August 31st by an electrical worker at the PPL Electrical Utilities substation outside of Sinking Spring. Details were not released, but he apparently had died from a fall off a rocky area. When I asked several mutual friends about Glenn’s death, they told me that he had suffered a relapse.

Glenn touched many of our  lives and was an inspiration to those who knew him. You can read his obit at the end of this blog. It’s impressive.

Because Glenn was a high-profile peer specialist, his death came as a shock. Which brings me to the point of this blog.  I certainly do not wish to invade the privacy of his family, but what happened? Did his medications stop working? Did he decide that he didn’t need them? One theory making the rounds was that Glenn was embarrassed to seek help because he was always cited as a successful example of someone who had recovered. He didn’t want anyone to think he had failed them when signs of his mental disorder began showing.

Those of us with loved ones, who have been diagnosed with mental disorders, know first-hand that these illnesses are always lying under the surface. Relapses happen.  Recovery is not something that is easily achieved. Nor are relapses something that anyone should be ashamed of.

As I said, I am not interested in morbid details. But what does interest me is how someone as well-respected, popular and as important as Glenn could end-up becoming a missing person.  With all of his knowledge and connections, Glenn should have been able to get meaningful help. The fact that he didn’t, should set off  alarm bells.

The best tribute we can pay to Glenn is to find out what lead up to him leaving his apartment on the day that he disappeared. Where did we fail him? We then should do our best to insure that this sort of tragedy isn’t repeated.

We will miss you Glenn.

Glenn’s obit.

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.