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A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness

Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley
(Putnam 2006)

Author and journalist Pete Earley has experienced every family’s nightmare. His son, a college student, became mentally ill and was arrested while experiencing a psychotic state. The events that followed led Earley to write this combined personal memoir and journalistic investigation into the criminalization of the mentally ill in America.

Although the crime young Mike Early committed was a nonviolent one, he faces a felony prosecution and the loss of the future career he has worked hard to prepare for. In the throes of his illness, he resists treatment and his father discovers that, because his son is of age, he cannot compel him into treatment no matter how sick he becomes. Civil rights laws that were meant to protect individual rights make it almost impossible to get treatment for someone who is seriously ill — even psychotic — if he resists treatment.

As he researches for a book on the mental health and criminal justice systems, he learns that in the 1800’s, the mentally ill were imprisoned in overcrowded and deplorable conditions, without treatment. Around the turn of the century, state mental health hospitals were established to treat them.

Then with the advent of deinstitutionalization between 1960 and 1980, the chronically mentally ill were turned out into the streets, and now fill the nation’s jails and prisons, in overcrowded and deplorable conditions — without treatment.

The book is an eye-opener about the mental health system and the efforts of one father, like thousands of other parents, to get his child the treatment he needed and to save him from the cruel reality of the system.

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