28 June 2006

Crazy, a Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, by Pete Earley

June 08 2006 (23:19:00) ( 0 views )

I've been putting off writing about this book because it's so very difficult to even think about its topic, and even more to write about it.

It is difficult to find words to adequately disparage the state of mental "healthcare" in this nation. If you doubt that there's a problem, I invite you to any large city. Walk around and ask why there are homeless people on the streets. Speak to any police officer, anyone who works in a hospital, jail or prison. Ask her or him if they have problems dealing with the mentally ill.

Pete Earley is an accomplished investigative journalist and writer whose life has been touched intimately by mental illness. His son suffers from bipolar disorder. Early's experiences trying to get help for his son inspired him to investigate the treatment of people with mental illness in this country. He did a thorough job, and the result is mostly disturbing.

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a loved one with such a disorder is that no matter how obvious or egregious their behavior and delusions may be, there is no good way to get them into treatment if they resist. And it is not unusual for a person with delusions, paranoia, mania, or depression to resist treatment. Indeed, many who suffer with these diseases feel that there is nothing wrong with them. It's the old joke, "I'm right, and the world's wrong." Furthermore, the effectiveness of treatment is inconsistent and undependable, which has led some patients to conclude that they are better off avoiding the "system" entirely.

Early's research includes a brief history of the last few decades during which we have seen the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, and its consequences.

"Tragically, deinstitutionalization [was a ] disaster. ...patients were discharged without any effort.. to link them to ... services -- if, in fact, there were any. President Kennedy's promise of $3 billion to create a safety net turned out to be a cruel lie... Congress never got around to financing community health centers.

"Chronically mentally ill patients -- psychotic and bewildered -- began appearing on street corners..."

The book is a very well written, unsettling chronicle of what we have done and not done about the people among us who suffer from disorders of the brain. Earley touches upon the many inadequacies of the legal system, the general ineffectiveness of the "healthcare" system, and the incredible apathy that this nation exhibits toward this entire subject.

We may look the other way, or cross the street, to avoid a deluded person wandering by, talking to voices we can't hear. We may think that it is a problem that "other people" have. But every one of us is touched by this in some way. The sheer numbers of mentally ill people around us -- both diagnosed and undiagnosed -- should be enough to make this a certainty. But -- as Earley reminds us -- what exactly makes any of us "sane" people immune? Who can say that he or she will never suffer from a mental illness? And if that happens, how then will we feel about this problem?

It is easy for me to see how important it is that we address the plight of the mentally ill in a meaningful way, since I have people close to me who suffer. I see the inadequacy of care, and the lack of understanding in society. I work for an organization that provides behavioral healthcare, and see the immense resistance it encounters while trying to do its work. As a nation, as a state, we are not willing to pay to take care of these people -- instead we pay billions to deal with the consequences.

We cannot afford to be complacent -- anyone may be the next person to be touched by mental illness, and may become woefully aware of the awful mess we have created.

I urge you to read this very interesting book, no matter what you think your level of involvement is. Whether we look at the question from a spiritual or pragmatic viewpoint, we are "our brother's keepers."

Here is a terrific review of the book at Blogcritics.org.

Searching for the Sound, My Life With the Grateful Dead, by Phil Lesh

June 28 2006 (22:01:00) ( 0 views )

In the attics of my life I remember buying a Grateful Dead LP that had, among other things, "The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "Cream Puff War," "Viola Lee Blues," and a picture of Jerry Garcia wearing an Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes tophat on the cover -- oh wow... I was in love and it never ended. On through the years. I'm no Dead expert, and the 'net abounds with such, but I had the Skull and Roses, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, Europe '72, Wake of the Flood, and Go to Heaven. I've been to a few GD concerts, although it's a long long time ago.

Sometime in the early 1990s I was driving through Seattle on my way home from a day on the road as a sales rep. I was wearing wool slacks, a dress shirt, maybe a tie, shiny shoes, the whole salesman outfit. I had samples, catalogs, order forms, paperwork and a cellular phone. I don't remember why but I went past the Seattle Center. I was only dimly aware that the Dead were in town doing a concert, and at that point in my life had little interest in going to such an event. With age my tolerance for crowds and random noise has really deteriorated.

I drove past sidewalks loaded with young and old people dressed in tie-dye and denim. Many hundreds of them. Long hair, headbands, suede vests. Girls in long cotton dresses twirling, crazy hippies with hand drums. Sandals, incense, and what's that smell? I had the strangest feeling of being thrown back into 1967. Dead Heads were everywhere. There were people there younger than me that looked like I looked when I was their age. And I'm sure if any of them looked at me in my air-conditioned car and Establishment uniform they thought the kind of thoughts that I would have thought back in the Summer of Love. It was a funny feeling.

And then not long afterward, again as I drove along on a business mission of some sort, came the sad news of Jerry Garcia's death. Now, I know that that was 9 August 1995, as it was very easy to Google. (When exactly that concert was is not so easy, but there are those of you out there who will look it up.) And it really, really hit me. It was physical.

I am not one to be involved with celebrities, but this was Jerry, and it was different. I loved the sound of his guitar, I loved his voice, and I loved the Grateful Dead. Sure, my love had taken a back seat as I became preoccupied in the rush of "adult" life and "important things." But it was still there, and I knew it was there when I heard that Jerry was gone. My sadness surprised me, and as I listened to the obligatory tribute plays of his songs on the radio I couldn't stop the tears. There I was, a middle-aged fat salesman peddling automotive products on the Freeway, crying for one of my rock 'n roll heroes.

Phil Lesh has written a 333 page book chronicling his time with the Dead, which is pretty much the whole life of the band. Phil joined Jerry, Pigpen, Bob Weir, and Billy Kreutzmann way back in the time of Haight Ashbury to form what became arguably the most innovative, quirky, loved, improvisational rock 'n roll band in the electric music movement of the late 20th century.

Lesh tells us of the early days of crazy camraderie, travels with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and the early involvement of Owsley as their sound technician. He takes us throught the whole story, through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. "What a long, strange, trip it's been."

His writing is only a little bit self-conscious. Phil is obviously a nice guy that I'd enjoy knowing and he's a fabulously good musician. The fact that he produced this book and that it is, after all, very readable and thoroughly enjoyable, is quite an accomplishment. And it's just un-polished enough to make me doubt that a "ghost" writer was involved.

The edition of the book that I read was a Back Bay Books paperback, and it includes two photo sections, which are delightful.

If you have enjoyed the Grateful Dead and have any curiosity about them, I'd strongly recommend you find a copy of this book. I found it to be a very pleasant nostalgic side-trip for a 54-year-old hippie with nearly no hair.