A man in a tree made a whole city laugh. Then his mom spoke out, and the laughing stopped.

On March 22, Seattle resident Cody Miller climbed a sequoia tree outside Macy's and refused to come down.


The police were called, and a minor standoff ensued. When authorities tried to coax Miller out of the tree, he pelted them with pinecones.

Pretty soon, a hashtag started and the jokes started rolling in.


Comparisons to similarly bearded fictional characters were made.

Someone started a parody Twitter account for Miller.


Complete with delightful tree puns.


Some wondered if Miller had a future as a professional "Man in Tree."


...and the story traveled around the world.



On and on it went. T-shirts were made. Tribute songs were written. "Arrested Development" jokes were tweeted.

For a few days, it all seemed like a bit of lighthearted fun. Miller became something of a mascot for the city to rally around, a delightfully tease-able, harmless oddball.


Then, an interview with Miller's mother changed everything.

Photo by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press.

Lisa Gossett, who was unaware Miller had climbed the tree until her sister sent her a YouTube video, revealed that her son had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

"He's my son; I gave birth to him," she told Seattle's KUOW. "I'm frustrated about not being able to do anything. It’s not like I can take him somewhere. I've got to get help."

Gossett told the station that she had asked the authorities — including the Alaska governor's office — to assist Miller again and again, but to no avail.

"They just put these people back on the streets,” Gossett said. “I feel hopeless. It’s so frustrating because I see his brothers and sisters crying for him. People are scared of him. He’s paranoid and violent. I’ve pretty much prepared myself for his death."

Far too often, we deal with people who have mental illness by criminalizing their behavior and locking them up.

A 2012 study found that prisons house roughly 10 times the number of mentally ill residents that state psychiatric hospitals do.

Nearly 15% of all prison inmates display signs of psychotic disorders.

Sure enough, rather than be funneled into a treatment facility to get help, Miller was jailed following the incident and held on $50,000 bail. He was charged with malicious mischief and third-degree assault and ordered to stay away from the tree, which sustained $8,000 worth of damage.

Suddenly, people saw Miller's story in a whole new light.

There was an outpouring of compassion for the man in the tree. (Even as the story was developing, there were people speculating about Miller's mental health.)

Others commented on the injustice of his arrest.


An impassioned Facebook post from U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania blasted law enforcement for charging Miller with a crime and urged his fellow representatives to support H.R. 2646, which expands protections for people — and families of people — living with mental illness.

In a few short weeks, Miller went from punchline to unwitting advocate.


By using Miller's story to illustrate the urgent need for more effective mental health care, Rep. Murphy's bill is suddenly receiving a burst of attention on social media.

Miller remains in jail today. But by climbing that tree, he achieved something kind of extraordinary.


The Seattle man managed to shine a light on what happens when effective support systems and treatment options for people with serious mental illness are inaccessible or simply don't exist.

His saga, alternately odd and devastating, should force the thousands who followed it to wake up to a critical point:

People with mental illness can't be cured by sending them to prison. And they don't deserve mockery.

They need support.

Family


Jon Stewart Won't Let Mitch McConnell Off That Easy www.youtube.com


Jon Stewart's work on behalf of the 9/11 Victims Fund has truly elevated him to hero status. His tireless efforts to raise awareness and restore funds to survivors and the families of victims have earned him much-deserved praise and literally helped push funding through a House committee last week.

But it shouldn't have to be like this.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes


75 years later, D-Day veteran meets long-lost French love www.youtube.com


There are millions of love stories in the world, but occasionally one stands out—like this one.

Falling in love is a universal human phenomenon without a universal definition. It can be a slow-building fire or a flash in the pan. It can happen over years, or over a single cup of coffee. Sometimes it fizzles and fades, and sometimes it lingers for a lifetime.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

A celebrated teacher's 5-point explanation of why she's quitting has gone viral.

"The school system is broken. It may be broken beyond repair."

Talented, dedicated teachers are leaving public schools because the system makes it too hard to truly educate kids.

When I studied to become a teacher in college, I learned what education can and should be. I learned about educational psychology and delved into research about how to reach different learners, and couldn't wait to put that knowledge into practice in the classroom.

Keep Reading Show less
Most Shared



If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a healthy father or a good father?

Studies suggest men often choose being a good father over being healthy.

Becoming a father is a major milestone in the life of a man, often shifting the way he thinks from being "me focused" to "we focused." But fatherhood can also shift how men perceive their health. Our researchhas found that fathers can view health not in terms of going to the doctor or eating vegetables but how they hold a job, provide for their family, protect and teach their children, and belong to a community or social network.

As founder and director of the Center for Research on Men's Health at Vanderbilt University and as a postdoctoral fellow from Meharry Medical College, we study why men live shorter lives than women, male attitudes about fatherhood, how to help men engage in healthier behavior – as well as what can be done to reduce men's risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Keep Reading Show less
Family