As this reviewer points out, American Snake Pit by Daniel J. Tomasulo
is a poignant, needed reminder to America about the benefit of group homes for people who are living with serious mental illness and developmental disabilities. Told from his first-person perspective in managing and running such a home early in his career as a psychologist, it offers a convincing argument that most Americans don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about their less fortunate fellow citizens.
When forced to do so because of a desire to open a new group home or treatment center in their community, too many people cling to the principle of, “Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for treatment of those people – just not in my backyard.” Apparently most Americans feel the best place to open a new group home or treatment center for those with mental illness is in Alaska. Or better yet, Russia.
The book tells the tale of the authors work in a group home shortly after de-institutionalization forced many people struggling with mental health problems out of the hospitals and into the community. It reminds us that people deserve better, while also helping point out how little has actually changed since then:
Tomasulo’s engaging read also stands as a stark wake-up call that the stigma of mental illness is still very much alive and kicking. After all, I find myself still writing about how some people don’t want a treatment center or halfway house located in their community — nearly 30 years after the events of this book took place.
Tomasulo does a world of good reminding us that people with developmental disabilities and mental illness are not to be feared, but to be cared for and empathized with. They are our fellow citizens and travelers in life, and deserve the same respect and chances of opportunity we want for our own loved ones.