Death Of Advocate Raises Questions About How We Respond To Relapses

Glenn Koons and Marlee Matlin

 (9-20-19) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY. Eight years ago, I posted this blog about the death of well-known advocate Glenn Koons. I am reprinting it to honor his memory and also remind all of us that serious mental illnesses do not simply disappear after an individual “recovers.” Although controlled, they remain. I also believe we unknowingly put pressure on those who we elevate and cheer as peers making it difficult for them to seek help if they need it. Lessons we can learn from Glenn’s legacy.

Glenn Koons Passes: Inspiring Spokesman For Those With Serious Mental Illnesses

First posted Sept. 9, 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.   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.

The best tribute we can pay to Glenn is to insure that others get help if they become ill.  We 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.