AUBURN | Mental illness is a disease of the mind that should be treated by medical professionals rather than relegated to the criminal justice system, author Pete Earley argues.
For Earley, mental illness is a subject that has not only touched his own family but has become a lifelong topic of advocacy.
On Tuesday afternoon, Earley spoke about his experiences with mental illness and the book he wrote on the subject, “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness,” at Cayuga Community College.
Earley, a former Washington Post journalist and author of 13 books, became involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness when his son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experienced some severe episodes because of it.
“The truth is that we don’t know what causes these mental illnesses,” he said. “There isn’t a doctor today that can come up here and tell us what causes bipolar, schizophrenia or severe depression. But I can tell you that these illnesses can be treated.”
For the writing of his book Earley said he delved deeply into the world of mental illness on both the patient and government sides of the issue, coming to the conclusion that most patients don't get the treatment they need.
"Mental health is becoming a criminal justice problem,” he said. “More than a million people with mental health issues are put through the criminal justice system each year. What it needs is to start becoming a community problem. What they really need is proper treatment and medications.”
Earley said that mental health is an issue that needs to be treated by qualified doctors and treatment facilities and not the criminal justice system.
“Don’t you dare tell me that proper help cannot work,” he said. “I have seen it work with my own eyes. I have seen miracles happen. Never underestimate your power to help change. There is no shame in mental illness. The only shame is in not helping those with mental illness.”
Earley’s program was brought to the college by Cayuga County Chapter of National Alliance for Mental Health founded by Bart and Terri Wasilenko.
In addition to NAMI Bart Wasilenko is also a criminal justice professor at the Fulton campus of Cayuga Community College.