Jae's Reviews > Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness

Crazy by Pete Earley
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's review
Aug 17, 08

really liked it
bookshelves: 2008-books

I've heard Pete Earley speak at a few conferences recently and looked up his book. It's fascinating, infuriating and important. Earley, a former Washington Post journalist, is alerted to the tragic and criminal intersection of the country's mental health and prison systems when his twentysomething son becomes mentally ill, and while Earley and his family are desperately trying to get him into treatment, breaks into a neighbor's (thankfully empty) home and thus becomes the criminal justice system's problem. Earley decides to use his skills to research the issue and, in addition to his son's story, writes a story about mentally ill inmates of the Miami-Dade county jail, and the treatment they (do not) receive. He ends up in Miami-Dade mostly because NYC, Chicago, and LA (where the LA County lockup is this country's largest public mental health treatment center, for very loose definitions of "treatment") wouldn't let him in. The book's examination of the difficulty of the mental health care system even for middle- and upper-class people (he writes honestly about breaching his ethical code by revealing to his insurance company that he is an investigative journalist in order to get them to allow his son to remain in the hospital instead of insisting he be discharged early), and the absolutely insane system that exists for the poor, and how many people who would formerly have been in mental health hospitals are currently in prison for crimes arising from their mental illness. I had vigorous arguments with him in my head about some of his conclusions (for instance, about easing laws about involuntary commitment -- I feel like in this case he was blinded by his own white, upper-class privilege and the fact that he is obviously an educated, empowered and loving parent to his son. But with easier involuntary commitment laws, what happens to people who don't have those parents, who don't have his privilege, who are exactly the people who were locked up and lost in the snake pits that existed before deinstitutionalization? We've got to fix the system for everyone before we make it any easier for anyone to get lost in it) (also, I'm not in love with the ideal community program as he describes it -- certain aspects made me really exercised in the argument I had with him in my head). But on some points, not necessarily those but others, I've gotten the impression from hearing him speak that his positions on some points have evolved since writing the book, as he has become more and more involved as an advocate on the subject.

*To quote Pete Earley: "Important note: The word "CRAZY" in the book's title refers to the mental health care system."

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