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.

Memorial Day Honors Heroes: That Should Include Those Who Died By Suicide

This blog appeared on my author’s website this morning, but a problem with Facebook delayed its reposting there.

(5-25-20) Memorial Day honors those who have died while serving in the U.S. Military.  That should include all those who have perished.

Does Ending Your Own Life Nullify Your Hero Status? Squabble At CIA Reveals Lingering Prejudice

Ranya Abdelsayed spent a year in Afghanistan targeting senior al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters at one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s most important bases. Less than 48 hours before she was to return home, the 34 year-old fatally shot herself in the head.

The CIA maintains a Memorial Wall in the lobby of its Langley headquarters to recognize those who “gave their lives in the service of their country,” but a recent spat reveals a lingering prejudice and stigma about mental illnesses.

The Washington Post, which broke this story,  quoted a longtime CIA historian, who retired in 2016, objecting to her name being approved and a star representing her being added to the wall:

Abdelsayed’s inclusion violates the agency’s own criteria — and her star “must absolutely come off the wall.”

The famed memorial, he said, is reserved for deaths that are “of an inspirational or heroic character” or are the result of enemy actions or hazardous conditions…“There’s been an erosion of understanding in CIA leadership for at least two decades about what the wall is for and who is it that we’re commemorating…Now we have a suicide star on the wall. That’s not what the wall is for. Suicide is a great tragedy, of course. But the purpose of the wall is not to show compassion to the family. It’s to show who in our community is worthy of this ­honor.”

Yes, you read that right: “Show who in our community is worthy of this honor.”

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Talk Of COVID-19 & Mental Health Anxiety Diverts Our Attention From Real Crisis. Serious Mental Illnesses

Coronavirus (Photo: oonal, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

(5-22-20) The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a rise in mental health problems. Long-time advocate, D. J. Jaffe worries this growing public awaking will divert us from serious mental illnesses.

A Pop-Psychology Pandemic

Mental-health advocates are more focused on the normal stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus than with improving care for those who need it most.

“Three months into the coronavirus pandemic,” the Washington Post’s William Van writes, “America is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation and fear generating widespread psychological trauma.” The virus and resulting lockdown have doubtless unnerved most people, but stress, anxiety, and even feeling episodically depressed don’t constitute mental illness. They’re normal reactions to a crisis of this enormity.

But pop psychology catastrophizes normality, positions it as a “crisis,” rebrands it as “psychological trauma,” and lends it gravitas that it doesn’t deserve. This response diverts our attention—and mental-health dollars—from the real crisis: the abandonment of people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, who are forced to sleep on streets, in jails, and in the few remaining psychiatric institutions. Leaving these people untreated only worsens the spread of Covid-19.

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My Life Will Never Be The Same: School Teacher Has Mental Breakdown, Arrested, Fighting To Get Her Life Back

Illustration from The Sosial.

(5-19-20) One of the most common comments I hear when I travel is “You have told my story!” It’s a reference to my book,  CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, which describes my son’s arrest in the midst of a psychotic break after we were turned away from an emergency room where we’d gone to seek help. After I spoke in Western Pennsylvania, Heather Fox talked to me about her struggle and I’ve asked her to share it. 

Dear Pete,

Three years ago, I was a mom who was rapid cycling and having a mixed episode of agitation, anxiety, and depression while taking the wrong medication for my diagnosis. I called my doctor but was dismissed. I still have a recording of our phone conversation where he told me to continue on my medication and simply blew off my concerns.

I was angry, got upset and felt no one could help me. My downhill spiral continued and I ended up fleeing one night. It was too much. I live in rural western Pennsylvania and I found a remote cabin in the woods. I helped myself to a bunch of random items, rearranged furniture, drank from their liquor bar and then attempted suicide by crashing my car.

I was taken to an emergency room where they cleaned me up, got me calmed down and called my husband. The doctors sent me two hours away to a mental health facility.

I am a pre-school teacher with a Master’s Degree who works with troubled kids. I never imagined I would end up in a small cell of a room with a ripped mattress and a ripped sheet. The building was dirty and very scary. I mostly slept in my bed and kept to myself. It was a frightening experience.

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Finished With Tiger King: Watch Overlooked Movie About Mental Illness And The Power Of Community Acceptance

(5-15-20) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: Unfortunately, Hollywood marketers always believe that sex sells so when the movie  Lars and the Real Girl was released in 2007, they packaged it as a comedy about a man who orders a life-size sex doll which he believes is real. This titillation harms what is a charming story written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie about mental illness and community acceptance. Now that you have watched Tiger King during stay at home orders, watch this movie. Those seeking a cheap sexual buzz will be disappointed but viewers who want to see what happens when someone with a mental illness is embraced by those around them will find it well worth their time.

Lars and the Real Girl (blog first posted in March 2010)

Actor Ryan Gosling plays Lars Lindstrom, a likable but withdrawn young man who has trouble making friends. One night he buys a life-size sex doll on the Internet and falls in love with it. He names her Bianca and explains that she is a Brazilian missionary so she doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex. He treats her as if she were a real person.

Now here’s where this movie turns from — as a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal put it – “a five minute sketch on tv” into an “achievement that borders on the miraculous.”

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Held Without A Hearing, Imprisoned Without Being Convicted: Lawsuits Question Treatment Of Individuals With Mental Illnesses

Nancy West photo: “Therapy booths” that look like human cages are used for group therapy at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at New Hampshire State Prison for Men. Courtesy of IndeptNH.

(5-12-20) Answer me this:

When does the clock start ticking on a 72 hour involuntary commitment hold? Does the countdown begin after a police officer drives someone to a hospital emergency room or when that private hospital sends the patient to a state psychiatric hospital?

Question two: Should a person with a mental illness currently being held in a maximum security prison be released if they have not been convicted of a crime?

Judges in New Hampshire are being asked to answer both questions in separate lawsuits.  Both are tied to a lack of psychiatric treatment beds in the state.

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A tsunami of mental problems due to Covid 19 will be met by a “severely broken system.” What will we do?

From NAMI Maine

(5-6-20) A common theory about the Vietnam conflict was there were no large protests until the killing began ending the lives of young men from the middle class and some from the upper class.

If true, I wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic will wake up Americans previously unaffected by mental problems to our underfunded and overburdened system as large numbers of them seek help coping with anxiety and PTSD.

Will our leaders insist on real parity that demands insurance companies and employers treat those with mental problems the same as they do those with physical ones or will much needed dollars and personnel simply be shifted away from those with the most serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia?

I don’t like to simply repost news articles, but this story in The Washington Post about the coming wave of mental health issues sounds an alarm.

Is anyone listening?

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental-health crisis

Anxiety and depression are rising. The U.S. is ill-prepared, with some clinics already on the brink of collapse.

Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, the country is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation and fear generating widespread psychological trauma.

Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.

Just as the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus caught hospitals unprepared, the United States’ mental-health system — vastly underfunded, fragmented and difficult to access before the pandemic — is even less prepared to handle this coming surge.

“That’s what is keeping me up at night,” said Susan Borja, who leads the traumatic stress research program at the National Institute of Mental Health. “I worry about the people the system just won’t absorb or won’t reach. I worry about the suffering that’s going to go untreated on such a large scale.”

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