Pat Herrity: Your Words About “Crazy People” Were Stigmatizing

Pat-Herrity (1)

(6-29-16) An Open Letter to Fairfax Board of Supervisor Pat Herrity

The Washington Post recently quoted you voicing your objection to quickly releasing the names of police officers involved in shootings because: “There are a lot of crazy people out there.”

I realize you were expressing your concern about protecting officers from retribution and will assume that your choice of words was not ill intended.

Sadly, they were.

My adult son is one of those “crazy people out there.” When he was in college, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness. He did not do anything to bring this illness upon himself anymore than someone who has a heart attack or cancer. Yet for the next seven years, he was repeatedly hospitalized, arrested after breaking into an unoccupied house to take a bubble bath while delusional, and shot twice with a taser by the Fairfax County police. Part of the reason why he couldn’t get help is because of significant budget cuts in Fairfax for crucial community mental health services.

Today, my son has been stable seven years. He works as a peer to peer specialist on a diversion team that helps Fairfax residents with mental illnesses avoid jail and get help for their illnesses. He pays taxes, is enrolled in graduate school, and is doing great.

Your reference about “crazy people out there” promotes stigma. It unfairly links persons with mental illness with violence. It warns the public that “crazy” people are dangerous and you need to be careful to avoid them. This language reminds those with mental disorders that they are different and not valued by society. Stigma has been shown as a reason why many of the 57.7 million Americans with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek help.

The Fairfax residents who concerned you are persons with anger management problems, criminals, residents with anti-social personalities or persons bearing grudges seeking revenge. They are the ones who you need to be wary of — not the “crazy people out there” – who numerous studies have shown are no more likely than anyone else to be violent and, in fact, are victims of violence more than they are perpetrators.


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.