Catherine J. Rippee-Hanson recently completed this breathtaking digital pen drawing of her brother, the late James Mark Rippee, taken from a photograph.
You know Mark Rippee’s story if you have followed this blog or read any of the media stories about him. For years, this mentally ill, blind, and homeless man clung to a brutal existence on the streets of Vacaville, California. County and state services, not bound by any hard and fast rules, left him to die there, and he did.
Catherine Rippee-Hanson’s brilliant, damning creation deserves to be enshrined as the prevailing image of American society’s degree of concern for its “crazy people.”
If you retain only one image of those dispossessed by our systems of care for our most helpless citizens, let it be this one.
Her first book reached out to mothers of afflicted and lost children, making common cause with their plight and her own. (And why is it, I ask again, that mothers seem always to be the point-parents in dialogues about m.i.? Where are the fathers?!) This second work is even more ambitious. It’s a compendium of stories that Ms. Ranahan has exhaustively retrieved from mothers in similar straits. It brings to mind the protean books of Studs Terkel more than a generation ago. Ms. Ranahan writes that she chose this interview-and-transcribe approach in lieu of “an extended rant,” and she has been forthright about the psychic weariness this journey has cost her. If you are lucky enough not to have lived in this horrific “sub-nation,” with its attendant catastrophes of diagnosis, effective treatment, ruinous healthcare costs, courtroom and criminal justice, effective political leadership, and awareness in the culture at large, please read Ms. Ranahan. And then get busy. You could help change the world. And DeDe Ranahan is now enshrined in the literature of enlightenment.
In the tradition of the late D.J. Jaffe, but with a psychiatrist’s grounding in nosology and a journalist’s zeal for social and civic truths, Insel explores the strange disconnect between stunning advances in the understanding of why and how the human brain can run amok, and the infuriating stagnation of actual reclamation for the mentally ill. He writes with laser-like clarity and the assurance of a master in his field.
I can’t recommend this book with any more persuasion than that of the great advocate Pete Earley, who writes on the back cover:
“’Healing’ is truly one of the best books ever written about mental illness, and I think I’ve read them all. Dr. Insel speaks as a parent, scientist, doctor . . . defining what’s wrong and offering clear-headed solutions—all the while guiding us forward with compassion, goodness, and hope in this juggernaut wake-up call.”
I am wearily–yes, wearily–posting links to two recent pieces by the peerless mental-healthcare blogger Pete Earley. Below them I’m linking to an archive within the blog you are reading now.
Their common denominator: they are about young brain-damaged men enduring Hell-on-earth lives on the streets of America as those who love them–mothers, sisters–trudge on through the years, and decades, trying vainly to awaken the conscience of the–the what? The whom? The withered, laughably misnamed “mental health” systems in their states that are restricted by outdated boneheaded rules and by the soul-deadened payrollers who run them. By the distracted politicians who appoint those payrollers and promptly forget them. By the oblivious electorate that will never form a constituency to keep the politicians on the case.
After his barbershop was vandalized by a mentally disturbed white man in Atlanta, Run The Jewels group member Killer Mike offered to help the man if anyone could identify him.
Killer Mike, a recording artist who is very vocal about supporting and enhancing Black entrepreneurship, posted a message on his Instagram account. He described his place of business being vandalized but used the moment to encourage others to “check on your mentally ill loved ones.”
Among the most infuriating barriers to mental healthcare reform is the indifference of policymakers. The mentally ill don’t form a significant constituency, in voting or in contributions. Thus, you know, nobody cares.
State Senator Cindy Friedman, a Massachusetts Democrat, has burst through this complacency. Working with some colleagues mentioned below, Senator Friedman has crafted an important new bill and shepherded it through the Senate. It is on its way to the state’s House of Representatives for enactment into law.
The ABC Act, as it is called, should be a model for every state in the nation. And it signals to reform advocates that they have a new champion. Kudos to Senator Friedman. And thanks to my fellow advocate Donna Erickson for the heads-up!
The documentary-in-progress inspired by my book No One Cares About Crazy People rolls along. Here is an updated promo reel created by the producer, Gail Freedman.
Gail Freedman, the gifted and tireless producer of the documentary arising from my book No One Cares About Crazy People, has just revised and expanded the promo reel for the docu-in-progress. The new, riveting interviews show that Gail has traveled the United States on limited resources, eliciting personal stories from a range of afflicted people and their loved ones. She has also homed in on the unthinkable tragedy of the Rippee family of Vacaville, CA, giving us raw access to the ravaged Mark Rippee. Brava, Gail!
A personal note: the film now opens with my late son Kevin belting out “One More Saturday Night,” accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, at age 7. Kevin was en route to becoming one of the premier guitar artists in the nation when he took his life in 2005 on the eve of his 21st birthday. Schizoaffective disorder.
I gave this tape to Gail early in the process. But I had not then listened to it myself–couldn’t. This morning was the first time I had heard Kevin’s child-voice in about 30 years.
No, seriously–and props, and godspeed to her! Her piece in the October 19 Washington Post turns a rare spotlight on one of the many under-explored areas of corrupt and viperish traps for mentally disturbed children.
Like solitary confinement–into which Ms. Hilton was dumped for a while, even though the foul world of “parent-approved kidnapping” has no law-enforcement authority–these predatory outfits are barbaric relics of the notorious “Bedlam” asyum, founded nearly eight centuries ago. Justice and human decency cry out for their abolishment, yet they and similar atrocities remain in business.
Paris Hilton’s bold denunciation has helped me to understand her for the first time, and to welcome her into the lists of reform advocacy. We need many more like her: public figures (all right, dammit, celebrities) who speak out from raw, often psychically crippling personal experience, to help us end the long sordid reign of abuse toward the mentally ill.
From the Washington Post:
Opinion: America’s ‘troubled teen industry’ needs reform so kids can avoid the abuse I endured
When I was 16 years old, I was awakened one night by two men with handcuffs. They asked if I wanted to go “the easy way or the hard way” before carrying me from my home as I screamed for help. I had no idea why or where I was being taken against my will. I soon learned I was being sent to hell.
I am typing these words in a near-incoherent state. I am consumed with boiling anger that makes me want to scream; black despair; bottomless pity for Rebecca Distel Reinig, the mother of Joseph; for Joseph’s father, and for Joseph, rest his soul. I feel such contempt for the pigsty that is our mental healthcare system and for the hospital and the healthcare factotums who carried out this coldblooded deceitful near-execution. (A sack lunch they gave him before dumping him in the rain. A SACK LUNCH).
I feel trepidation on behalf of certain friends who will read this and feel stricken because they have also felt the sting of American barbarism—institutional and private—as regards mental illness. The Rippee family. The West family. Find them in my blog archives if you don’t know who I am talking about.
Yet I derive hope from the handful of heroes in this country who do not let their own exhaustion and despair halt their crusade: the author and advocate Dede Moon Ranahan, who originally posted Rebecca Reinig’s nightmarish account of her son’s fate. Others.
I know that many, if not most of you, being human, come upon my mental-illness blog posts and read past them. Not this one. Please. Don’t skip this one. Read it, Every word. And learn something about the hellscape that awaits just on the other side of the membrane.
From Rebecca Distel Reinig:
“It’s with a heavy heart and a sadness that I did not know existed in a human soul that I would like to share with you the passing of my son Joseph. He was found Wednesday in some bushes in Oceanside, CA. Alone in the rain. Still wearing the hospital gown that he was had on when he was dropped off by staff from the behavior health hospital on Monday afternoon. His death is a tragedy and could have heen prevented if the doctors and social worker had truly listened to me when I begged them to not release him to the streets. I told them he was gonna die. Keep reading…I will explain the trajedy of his death. His cause of death is under investigation by the San Diego Coronor. An autopsy will be performed within the next few days.He just turned 30.
For those of you who do not know my son’s story, it’s not that much different than thousands of families out there. Joseph lived in transient camps in San Diego County with severe mental illness. We wanted him to live with us. In fact we took early retirements to move him and us away from San Diego 350 miles north to a small town in the foot of the Eastern Sierra mountain range, where I was raised, and where as kids our we would take our children. We thought taking him to the mountains where he loved hiking and fishing, that giving him a stress free life in the mountains and loving him up would “cure” him. His delusions had him convinced that living up here with us was endangering our lives. He was convinced that if he did not leave ” they” would bomb our house, kill us and put him in a cold dark room ( not unlike the padded cell in jail where he would spend days at a time in, naked in a straight jacket).
He lasted living with us for only several months, and thinking he was saving our lives, he went back to the streets of San Diego CA. That was 3 years ago. Since that time his life had been a revolving door of mental hospitals, medical hospitals and jail. He has been hospitalized in behavior health hospitals 9 times this last year. Sometimes against his will, often times he would admit himself. Often times I would drive the 5 hour trip to pick him up, get a motel and would try to convince him to come home. He always refused. Stating our house would be bombed if he did.I’m also angry…that’s not even a strong enough word. Joe admitted himself last week to Aurora Behavior Health Hospital. That was his go to place. He liked the staff and doctors and they seemed to care about him. It was there 2 months ago that the psychiatrist determined he was unable to care for himself and referred him to the County conservitor office so his dad and I could gain control of his medical needs and help him obtain the long term help he needed. The conservitor investigator denied the claim because he did not meet the criteria of gravely disabled. In California the bar is set very high to meet the criteria of gravely disabled. I have yet to know of anyone being successful with that endeavor in california. Accept Britney Spears. Her conservitorship is a slap in the face to those of us whose loved ones truly need help.
Anyway..Last week Joey admitted himself because he was feeling suicidal and was psychotic. He would always call to tell me keep was trying to get help. He wanted help so badly. Last Friday the social worker called and assured me that he would not he released to the streets, she was trying to get him reestabluxhed with a care management team and get him long term housing. I stressed that he could not be released to the streets. She assured me he would not. Monday morning she called and said he was heing released and Gould I pick him up? I asked what happened to the management team and housing. She explained no one would accept him because over the weekend he had been violent with staff. I instantly asked her why would she ask me to pick him up if he had been violent? I begged her to have him out on s 5150 hold to buy me some time to figure it what to do. She was heading to a meeting about him and would talk to the doctors. I was clear when I stated to her that under no circumstances should he be released to the streets. I said he is gonna die of we cannot get him the help he deserves . She assured me they would not and would get back to me. She did not. I called the hospital to talk with Joey monday night, he was not there. Still no call from the social worker. Tuesday morning I called her. she explained that her ” team” had given him a ride to Ocesnside and dropped him off at a CVS pharmacy with his prescriptions and a sack lunch. I was in shock, hung up and waited for his call. He always called. His body was reported to the sheriff’s office Tuesday night but because of bad weather they could not locate him with drones. The homeless lady who reported him took them to his body Wed. morning. He was still wearing his hospital gown and still had a baggy of white powder clutched in his hand. He was steps from the homeless camp. the coronor explained that it appeared he got some bad dope laced with fentanyl. Although suicide and foul play have not been ruled out. What kind of crazy fuck places meth with fentanyl? Its deadly and kills almost instantly.I’m so angry and devastated I want the system to pay for failing him. I want accountability. I m so angry its consumed me. I dont want to he consumed. Yesterday in.my grief i called a wrongful death attorney and babbled like an idiot. I told them i needed an attorney with balls enough to take on the “system” and make the “system” accountable for my son’s death and the needless deaths of all the other josephs out there. I want justice, awareness , accountability and the laws changed that binds the hands of families trying toget help to save their loved ones lives . iI dont want his death to have been in vain. The attorney politely said they will get back to me. I doubt it.Meanwhile we sit here trying to figure out where we will come up with the money to bring our son home and have s memorial for him. Death is such a money making business and for a fee if $250 we can buy 30 minutes if time to see our sons dead body and tell him goodbye . …that is if he is in viewable condition. if not, for an additional 800 they will make him viewable.”
. . . Yet the Texas deputy attorney general’s ignorance about mental illness and his slurring of Simone Biles tells us all we need to know about how much America still needs to learn, and care, about “crazy people.” Especially including powerful people in our criminal-justice system. Which is one hell of a lot of learning and caring. Meantime, more shame on you, college-educated and privileged and complacent Aaron Reitz.