From My Mail Bag: Kindness, Frustration, Outrage at Police

Let’s begin this Friday blog on a hopeful note. Please watch the short CBS news report posted above. I generally don’t like to pass along clips that are making the rounds on the Internet but this one came from a reader who felt it was nice to see a positive story get national attention. I agree.

When I was a child, kids with learning disabilities didn’t attend public schools. They were the “Boo Radleys” of the neighborhood, kept sequestered at home or sent to live in underfunded institutions. That has changed because schools have been forced to accomodate special needs. As you can tell from the CBS news story, knowledge replaces fear and ignorance. When that happens, kindness can emerge.

I’m glad that parents of children with intellectual disabilities have waged a tireless and ongoing campaign to get their loved ones decent services. Those of us with family members who have a mental illness also need to demand that our loved ones get decent and meaningful services that meet their individual needs.

In addition to that video clip, I received several emails this week about the interview that I posted with new NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti and also the guest blog written by NAMI Board Chair Keris Jan Myrick.  While most were favorable, I received several from individuals who were concerned by statements made by both women. Here’s a sampling.

Dear Pete,

 Keris is not the typical mental health consumer.  Her vision is quite different from someone like my son who continues to have delusions in spite of taking his medication 3 times a day…He hated WRAP groups and also does not like working with peers so that approach is not good for everyone.  I am tired of this type of message coming out of NAMI because it is useless for the most severe group. 

 Dear Pete, I am very concerned about the new director of national NAMI.  We are at a cross roads getting services for people who if they don’t get services are ending up in the criminal justice system.  If NAMI as an organization does not get this huge problem, then the organization has become useless.  It does no good just to offer education classes like Family to Family and Peer to Peer when there are few resources in the community or at the state level to access.  NAMI national, state and local affiliates should be pushing for changes in laws, asking for newly opened inpatient units, asking for effective community programs and services, asking for supported supervised and independent housing, asking for better guardian and conservatorship programs that assist and protect the rights of the mentally ill people who are unable to advocate effectively for themselves…I know your son has benefited from being in a peer provider job but it is really not the case with the majority of others. 

 Dear Pete,

Would Ms. Giliberti or Ms. Myrick supply you with research showing peer support works? I have looked at every study and few meet the lowest criteria for independence of adequate study design. Even if you overlook that, even those studies don’t show peer support improves a meaningful outcome (reduced homelessness, hospitalization, incarceration, etc) in people with SMI. What studies do show is that those paid to give it like it, and think it helps those they give it to. Some studies purport to measure hopefulness, resiliency and other soft measures, but not hard measures. None claim it does better than professional support, or other non profressional interventions like horseback riding, shopping therapy, dance therapy, or any ‘therapy’ that pays attention to someone with SMI. The Cochrane Study found peer support no better than any other support.

The subject that generated the most emails to me this week, however, concerned the verdict issued January 13th in Orange County, California, in the 2011 beating death of a 37 year old homeless man, Kelly Thomas, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The jurors cleared two police officers of murder charges even though a 33 minute long video shot by bystanders shows both relentlessly beating Thomas as he cries for mercy. The video is extremely difficult to watch and photos of Thomas after the beating are equally disturbing. He had not committed a serious crime, especially one that merited the use of deadly force. Yet a jury acquitted both officers.


I will explore that question further in a future blog, but after hearing that verdict, you can understand why I decided to begin this blog on a happier note. There are too many stories like the death of  Kelly Thomas and too few like the CBS report.


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.