Author Speaks About Mentally Ill Son
October 18, 2010
Pete Earley, author of the award winning book Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, spoke at Mount Union recently about his son’s struggle and the current state treatment for the mentally ill.
“I’ve come here as an author and a journalist,” Earley said. “But more importantly, I’ve come as a father whose son has a mental illness.”
Earley spent most of his career as a journalist, but his life changed when his son Mike was diagnosed as bi-polar. According to Earley, Mike would be laughing one minute then wanting to kill himself the next. Mike believed the medication he was on was “poison.” At this point, Earley took his son to the emergency room where doctors refused to treat Mike because he posed no threat to himself or anyone else.
This was an obstacle they continually ran into. Finally, when Mike broke into a stranger’s house and proceeded to take a bubble bath, Earley lied to officers, saying he had been threatened so that Mike would go to the hospital instead of jail.
As Mike’s situation would improve and then worsen again, Earley realized that as a journalist, he could investigate the current state of treatment for the mentally ill and find out why those with these diseases commonly end up in jail. Earley searched for a prison that would allow him to follow inmates but was asked to leave in many cases.
Eventually, a judge in Miami granted Earley unrestricted access into the Miami Dade County Jail. Earley quickly saw how many mentally ill inmates where in this jail and how poorly they were treated. According to Earley, the psychiatrist at the jail spent 12.7 seconds with each inmate every day, never talking to his patients.
“We don’t know what causes these mental illnesses but current thinking tells us it is biologically based, which means they can be helped,” Earley said. “The problem is finding help.”
In the United States institutions were started to house the mentally ill but eventually closed because of lack of funding and poor conditions. At this point jails began filling with the mentally ill. Currently, one in five people suffer from a mental illness and 16 percent of people in jail or prison are mentally ill.
“Mike has been stable for four years now. Don’t tell me recovery is not possible,” Earley said. “What can you do? Never underestimate the power of a person to change a community. Educate those around you, lobby politicians and never give up.”
To conclude his lecture, Earley wanted to emphasize that this was a community problem across the country, and until communities are ready to help, the situation will not improve.
Earley earned a bachelor of science degree in business and mass communications from Phillips University in Oklahoma in 1973. Over the years, he has worked for various newspapers including the Washington Post. He began working as a full-time author in 1986 and since then has published 12 books.