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The American Mental Health System Is Broken

We seem to be on a serious streak with our Authors of the Month, as evidenced by June's entry. John C. Rubisch's nonfiction memoir, Christopher's Story, uncovers the American mental health system and how it's harming more than helping.

The interview below delves into some very difficult topics that shouldn't be taken lightly. If we want to see more mental health recoveries happen around us, we need to address the problem for everything it is.

And everything it shouldn't be.

If you have your own published story you’d like to share – fiction or nonfiction, hard-hitting or lighthearted – I’d love to hear from you at

As for those not-yet-published writers out there, how about we work on getting you where you want to be? You might be just one click away from getting your words on their written way.


May’s Author of the Month: John C. Rubisch

Genre: Mental-Health Memoir

Age Appropriate: 17+

Bio: Dr. John C. Rubisch has over 30 years experience working with the perpetual dysfunction of the American mental health system as a parent, social worker for abused children, substance abuse counselor, and college and high school counselor.

Along with Christopher's Story and Mill River Senior High, his other published works include Mill River Junior High, an audio/text program for middle school students. Currently, he is working on “Big Dog, Little Dog,” a children’s book on the cycle of life and death.

His video production, Video Magic, won the 2001 Mahnke Award, a national award given for excellence in amateur educational productions.

Holding a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems from Penn State University, Dr. Rubisch has done many nationwide presentations on education, counseling, and the use of technology in the classroom. His proudest achievement is assisting the very many of his high school students reach their post-secondary dreams.

Jeannette: First and foremost, thank you for sitting down with Innovative Editing to discuss such an important topic as mental health issues. Christopher’s Story was extremely detailed about so many different aspects of dealing with the mental-health medical system. But how would you best summarize the book itself?

John: The book is about my efforts to help my son despite the perpetual dysfunction of the American mental health system. I adopted Christopher when he was three-years old. His biological father physically abused him, resulting in Chris being placed in foster care. Although he was in the MH system for over 20 years, Chris, as an adult, went on to physically abuse an infant boy himself.

The cycle of abuse came full cycle.

Jeannette: I was going to continue with a different question here, but you just brought up what, to me, is one of the most tragic aspects of the story: seeing the cycle of abuse. I have my own thoughts on the subject, but this isn’t supposed to be a leading question nonetheless.

In your opinion, how do these cycles get started in the first place?

John: Before I was a school counselor, I was a caseworker for abused and neglected children for an agency that kept quite detailed records. I had one child on my caseload whose family could be traced back to the 1890s in the agency’s records!

Jeannette: Oh my goodness. That’s horrible.

John: The bad news is that abuse is going to always be with us. The good news is that some individuals escape. I know because, having spent my career in education and counseling, I have seen some children who grew up in horrendous situations become productive citizens. Many times, they have a mentor or two who are key to their adjustment.

The best we can do as individuals is to be aware of those around us who may need some assistance and to provide it to them.

Jeannette: I’m not disagreeing with you there, but that’s a tall order for any one person to handle, as I’m sure you recognize all too well. There are so many factors involved and so many potential complications. Looking back, what do you think would have been the best way for Christopher to have been treated?

John: The best way for him to be treated would have been if he’d been treated as an individual with unique problems rather than just another patient on an assembly line more concerned about making money than helping people.

For example, one time, Chris was discharged from an institution with the promise that I could return him for placement if necessary. We did return a few months later. However, initially, they weren’t going to readmit him.

The reason? During his first placement, my medical insurance payed for his stay. For the second, my insurance had been exhausted and welfare would pay a lower rate than private insurance. So the institution wanted to save the spot for someone who had private insurance.

Jeannette: Was there any moment where you did get actual help from the mental health community? It couldn’t have been all bad, right? Or am I being unrealistically optimistic in that hope?

John: The first person that comes to mind wasn’t part of the mental health system. She was my son’s social worker when he was in prison for assaulting me, and she arranged for him to earn his high school diploma.

The people at the Crossroads program in Lebanon County really worked with Chris too, although he was not particularly receptive. There was an individual counselor who saw him twice there before telling me she couldn’t help us. Believe it or not, I thanked her for being honest. Many people didn’t have a clue as to what to do but wouldn’t admit it.

Others had good intentions but found it impossible to do much. For instance, I once talked to a woman in mental health who had Chris and 699 other people on her caseload!

Jeannette: Just hearing about that is utterly exhausting. I can’t imagine having to deal with it directly. But I suppose it at least somewhat explains the next issue I’m going to bring up – that of prescription drug recommendations.

Specifically, you mention ADD med recommendations in the '80s and early 90s. I don’t think they diagnose ADD – or ADHD, I suppose – at the same rate they do now. But do you think the same mentality of drugging kids’ problems “away” still exists?

John: Yes. I have a unique view of the American mental health system in that not only was I Christopher’s father, but I was a high school counselor for 32 years, where I encountered many students who had mental health problems.

A few years ago, I was talking to one of my students who had serious mental health problems but also terrific insight. She had favorable comments about the quality of talk therapy at institutions but added that, many times, the inpatients were “too drugged up” to derive much benefit from it.

Drugs are relatively cheap. Residential care and talk therapy are expensive and not expedient.

Jeannette: Right now, it sounds like a rather hopeless situation. What is your goal in sharing this story?

John: As one of my friends said, the only people more reviled than my son are the guys who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. He’s my only child, and that is one hell of a legacy for me to leave.

I thought about writing this book for a long time before I actually did. Writing it was cathartic for me. I thought maybe something good could come out of something bad. Maybe Christopher’s Story could shake up the American mental health system a little.

Jeannette: Speaking of shaking things up, how have you gone about marketing Christopher’s Story and how has it been received?

John: I’ve been on local television twice: Once for Christopher’s Story and once for my work of fiction, Mill River Senior High. I’ve had success targeting the mental health community by placing an ad in the NAMI Advocate and appearing at conferences.

Periodically, I’ll run into people who say they read it. So there seems to be a strong word of mouth factor about the book. People read it and pass it along to a friend. Of course, I’d prefer that they buy it!

But so far, the feedback has been very good. I haven’t checked Amazon recently, but the last time I looked, it had received all fives.

Jeannette: Well, I’m of course going to provide an Amazon link to your five-star-rated book. But where else can people find you online?

John: You can go to:

Jeannette: Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us here on Innovative Editing’s platform, and I sincerely wish you, your book and Christopher the absolute best.

Readers, here’s your link if you want the full story. It’s quite the thought-provoking read.

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