Changing the world, one person at a time.

What do a beauty pageant winner, a retired state probation officer, a former homeless man, and a grieving father have in common? 

Pete Earley talking with Nita Brown, NAMI President Arapahoe Douglas Counties

Those of you who read my blog regularly can easily guess the answer. All four have had their lives impacted by mental illnesses. But that is not why I am writing about them. I want to share their stories with you because of how they have chosen to react to the hurdles they’ve encountered.

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From Shoddy Hospitals to Shoddy Houses!

The main reason why I wrote CRAZY was to expose how thousands of persons with severe mental illnesses are being locked-up in jails and prisons because of inadequate community services and laws that require a person to be dangerous before they can be helped.

To me, the incarceration of persons whose only real crime is that they have become ill is a national scandal.

Of course, not everyone with a severe mental disorder in Miami, where I did my research, ended up in jail. When I did my investigation, there were 4,500 persons with severe mental disorders living in 650 boarding homes, called Assisted Living Facilities.  At one time, most of these folks would have confined in state hospitals. Now they are in the community — which is wonderful.

Wonderful, that is,  until you explore the conditions under which many of them are living today.Click to continue…

Gleeful for GLEE! Mental Health First Aid and the Death of A Friend.

A few weeks ago, my daughter, Traci, put together a short video that showed how persons with mental disorders are often the victims of prejudice, stupidity and stigma. One of the most offensive clips came from the popular FOX Television show, GLEE. In that episode, the talented Gwyneth Paltrow dressed as Mary Todd Lincoln, announced that she had bipolar disorder, and proclaimed that a teapot was talking to her.  I was disgusted.

GLEE redeemed itself last week in what was one of the most poignant exchanges about mental illness that I have seen on mainstream television. If you missed the clip, here it is. It is three minutes long and I would urge you to watch it.

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Spiritually, Mental Illness and Recovery

My father is a retired protestant minister and I grew up attending church. When I was a child, Easter was my second favorite holiday. I preferred Christmas because I got presents. At Easter, we hid eggs but didn’t exchange gifts. Of course, when I got older I came to understand just how important Easter is to protestant faiths.

I am writing about religion because of a question that I was asked recently at Viterbo University, a beautiful school in La Crosse, Wisconsin. About 550 people attended my speech at Viterbo, which traces its origins to a small school founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. 

“How important is spiritually to mental health recovery?” a woman in the audience asked me. 

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What Is Critical To Recovery?

What’s the most important ingredient to recovery if you have a mental illness?

I’m beginning my week by flying into LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where I will speak tonight at Viterbo University.  As always, I will talk about my book, my son, and what happened to our family. I will explain how those terrible events led me to the Miami Dade County Detention Center where I followed persons with mental disorders through the criminal justice system.  I will talk about how our jails and prisons have become our new asylums, why this is wrong and how we need to turn our current system back into a community health issue rather than having it continue to be a criminal justice problem. 

But on this trip, I’ve also been asked to speak in the afternoon to a number of local leaders as part of an informal afternoon “conversation.” The goal of this talk, which is sponsored by the Mental Health Coalition, is to discuss what is happening in La Crosse and what it might do better. 

My role is to describe successful programs that I’ve seen visiting 46 states and three countries — Iceland, Brazil and Portugal — and touring more than a hundred different programs.

I am always happy to talk about programs that are making a difference and I don’t mind citing specific examples.

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Death, Friends and Political Memories

A funeral this week was yet another reminder that time moves on. I used to go to weddings. Now I am entering the funeral age.

It actually was an unnecessary third reminder.

The first was the death in March of David Broder,the Pulitzer Prize winning, Dean of Washington political writers. I knew him when I worked at The Washington Post, although we were not close friends. Every workplace has a pecking order and Broder sat on Mount Olympus. I was on a ledge much farther down.  

Despite that, Broder stopped by my desk shortly after I was hired and spent several minutes talking to me about Oklahoma p0litics. He had heard that the Post had hired me away from the now closed Tulsa Tribune. I was the newspaper’s lone Washington correspondent and had covered the state’s two senators and five representatives for three years.  I was shocked that someone as famous as Broder would take time to    introduce himself and even more stunned by how much he knew about Oklahoma politics. Not only was he familiar with the state’s congressional leaders, he also asked me about several county commissioners. I later learned that Broder was that well-versed about every state. Like most other young staffers, I thought he walked on water. But he was never arrogant and that was not something that could be said about several of his other Mount Olympus colleagues.  

The second death that caused me to feel nostalgic was the passing of Geraldine Ferraro, the first female candidate from a major political party to run on a presidential ticket. I had met Gerraro through an Oklahoma congressman named Mike Synar who was the only politician whom I ever covered who I considered to be a personal friend.

First, a bit about my pal Mike.

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