Pete Earley Keynotes Mental Illness Awareness Week Events

Mental Illness Awareness Week

WEST CHESTER, PA —What happens to mentally ill people who break a law? Pete Earley knows – and will share what he has witnessed when he speaks on Tuesday, October 5, as the keynote of West Chester University’s Mental Illness Awareness Week events. His 6 p.m. speech and Q&A in Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall is free and open to the public.

Earley’s nonfiction book CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness was one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. He emphasizes that he uses the word “CRAZY” in the book title to refer to the mental health care system.

His book chronicles his struggle to help his adult son after he develops a severe mental illness and is arrested. His son’s arrest prompted Earley, a former Washington Post reporter, to spend 10 months inside the Miami Dade County jail as a reporter where he followed prisoners with mental disorders through the criminal justice system to see what actually happened to them. CRAZY has won awards from the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, and prompted CNN to name him one of the nation’s top “Mental Wellness Warriors.”

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“I feel more passionately about this book than any I have ever written,” says Earley, who has authored 11 nonfiction books and 10 novels. “Our nation’s jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums. I wrote this book as a wake-up call to expose how persons with mental illness are ending up behind bars when what they need is help, not punishment.”

WCU students in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) On Campus organization were instrumental in coordinating Earley’s visit and in organizing other campus activities for Mental Illness Awareness Week October 3–9.

NAMI On Campus President Hannah Crespy, a psychology major, said that she and her club’s board members “believed that it would be important to bring in a speaker who could tie in the complexities of mental illnesses and relate it to a real-world problem such as the intersectionality of mental health and the justice system. We believe that it is crucial for NAMI On Campus to provide education and ‘real people’ experiences to campus in hopes of reducing stigma.”

Crespy also emphasized how important it is for students to understand that they are not alone in their struggles with mental health. That resonates with Jose F. Tena, a criminal justice major who is president of the criminal justice honor society Nu Beta (Alpha Phi Sigma): “I wanted to help NAMI On Campus, knowing how important it is to speak up about mental illness and seek help.”

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The event is free but registration is required. Register here.

Pete Earley’s presentation is sponsored by the WCU Office of the President and the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities as well as the academic departments Criminal Justice, Health, Psychology, and Public Policy & Administration. Off-campus sponsors are Brandywine Valley Counseling & Neurofeedback Center, Chester County MH/100, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Campus, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Main Line, PA.

Also During Mental Illness Awareness Week

In addition to Earley’s presentation, a free panel presentation on the Stepping Up Initiative will take place Wednesday, Oct. 6, in Sykes Student Union Theater from 3 to 4:30 p.m. This event is open to the public and anyone can attend virtually by registering for the Zoom link here.

The Stepping Up Initiative is a national movement to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Stepping Up asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve measurable impact in local criminal justice systems of all sizes across the country. For Chester County, Susanne Fink, Mental Health Diversion Specialist, is coordinator for CIT and the Stepping Up Initiative. In addition to Fink, the other panelists are from the Council of State Governments and Justice Center: Gretchen Frank, Senior Policy Analyst, Behavioral Health and Kati Habert, Senior Policy Analyst.

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Campus mental health services include the WCU Counseling Center (610-436-2301) and the WCU Community Mental Health Clinic (610-436-2510; [email protected]). Or call the Chester County Mental Health Crisis Intervention Hotline at 1-877-918-2100.

If you or someone you know is in a mental health emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

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