What a gift we have in Pete Early

by Alan Johnson

What a gift we have in Pete Earley.  Having just read Pete’s blog about his testimony to a Congressional committee investigating mental illness and violence, I applaud his fierce honesty in what it is like to be a parent of a person who has a mental illness/mental disorder/brain disorder.  And for him to do that in 4 minutes is remarkable.

I surely get his emotional roller coaster experience, though.  When the lights are shining in your eyes and you have a forum in which to speak to Congress and beyond about how your child’s mental illness has changed your whole family, you can be darn sure that a parent would have some strong emotions.  It could also prompt you to go out and read his book, “Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness.”  In his book, there is clarity and full body contact with the hot issues that are surfacing nationally. Several points from Pete’s blog are particularly noteworthy.

In Colorado, we are now searching for ways to “broaden the standards of involuntary commitment.”  That is at the heart of much of Pete’s writing and testimony.  We all know it is a fine line between a person’s civil rights and the major care that is needed to help a person find the right help.  We wrestle with the language. Is using “substantial risk” the right standard to invoke to warrant a 5-day involuntary commitment rather than just the present 72 hours?  Those 5 days could also be extended to 3 months.  Pete writes, “We need a national dialogue about our existing mental health laws with an eye toward protecting civil rights but also getting people help before they become an imminent danger.”  This is meat of the conversation that is occurring these days.

Another issue Pete writes about in his book is building mental health institutions that do not look at all like the former mental hospitals, most of which are now closed.  Rather, to have institutions that would replace the present “asylums” that are, today, what prisons have become. These new buildings would be places where actual treatment would be offered to the most severely mentally ill persons. Jointly with local community treatment services, which Pete mentions, this path toward recovery would be a way to augment hope.  And hope would be rekindled in people with mental illness.

The Interfaith Network on Mental Illness in Boulder, Colo., has invited Pete Earley to come to speak to our community.  On Saturday, April 13, at 7 p.m. Pete will speak at the University of Colorado Law School, Wolf Building and on Sunday, April 14, Pete will speak at the 9 a.m. and the 10:15 a.m. services at the First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine Street, Boulder.  Pete’s title is “The Criminalization of Mental Illness.” Learn more.

Pete rallies “against the troubled mental health system and for the mentally ill.”  It is incumbent upon those who have been touched with these issues to join Pete’s rally.


Alan Johnson,

Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and Caring Clergy Project


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.