Authorities found Salerno's Toyota — keys still in the ignition — at a state park. Inside the car was a note penned by the doctor.

"Stay alert!" it read. "Their relentless pursuit requires your constant vigilance!"

Salerno left his phone and wallet behind in his unlocked vehicle and started walking.

Dr. Mark Salerno
Jamie Peachey
Dr. Mark Salerno
Michelle Bloss and Mark Salerno of Recovery Innovations of Arizona
Jamie Peachey
Michelle Bloss and Mark Salerno of Recovery Innovations of Arizona

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Shadow Dwellers: A Series

What's the one image you took away from the Tucson shootings? We thought so. That mugshot of Jared Loughner is haunting. And for the world, it has become the face of mental illness in Arizona. Here, we know that's not true. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the story of what it's like to be mentally ill in this place cannot be told in a single photograph.

Tens of thousands of seriously mentally ill people live in Arizona. Some of them look just like you.

Other stories in the series:

Phoenix's Most At-Risk Homeless Find Their Way, Thanks to a Team of "Navigators", by Paul Rubin

Meet Raven, a Homeless Man with More Community Than Many of Us Have, by Paul Rubin

Why Did the Arizona Department of Corrections Put a Mentally Ill Man in Cell with a Convicted Killer?, by Paul Rubin

Mental Illness Hasn't Stopped Chris Shelton from Becoming a World-Class Boxing Historian, by Paul Rubin

Jan Brewer's Response to Jared Loughner: Slash More Than 35 Million in Services from an Already Beleaguered Mental Health System, by Paul Rubin and Amy Silverman

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Authorities used helicopters and dogs to find Salerno within a day, almost 20 miles from where he had left his car.

Reporters swarmed into the area. One woman, a psychologist, had seen Salerno wandering through her backyard.

"It seems he was a very lost soul," she said. "I hope he gets help."

What Salerno got was a plane trip back to Arizona and another cell, this time for violating probation.

"The saga of Dr. Mark Salerno continues," Joe Arpaio told reporters. "I sent him a bill last time around and he's going to get another one."

Salerno was incarcerated for a few weeks, first in solitary confinement and later in the general population.

County prosecutors sought a prison term of up to two years, but Judge O'Toole turned them down. The judge, now retired, noted that Salerno had been suffering from severe depression and a schizoaffective disorder that can trigger an array of manic symptoms, including hallucinations and paranoia.

The judge reinstated Salerno's probation with orders to perform even more community-service work and sent him home.

By then, the doctor already had surrendered his medical license.

"They didn't know what to do with me," Salerno says of the state medical board. "I didn't have substance abuse problems and I wasn't violent. I was sick, and I just needed to get better."


But "getting better" was a monumental task — with no guarantee of success.

Unable to make mortgage payments, Salerno sold his home in Carefree shortly before the bank foreclosed on it, which provided some financial cushion.

"It's not that I was homeless," he says. "Everyone equates the mentally ill with the unemployed homeless, but it cuts across the board. I was a doctor who couldn't practice medicine, and a human being who had a long way to go to get back on my feet."

Salerno was not a well man in 2003.

"Fearful of people, extreme irritability, really depressed," is how he describes his mental state at the time.

The doctor spent endless hours in bed staring into space — later memorialized in that story "told" by Luke, his loyal dog.

(Luke, by the way, had been cared for by Salerno's then-wife during the doctor's absences.)

As time passed, Salerno says, "I became more afraid of never getting out of the house again than of all the shame that was out there. A lot of people would say, 'Don't I know you?' I thought everyone had seen me on TV getting pulled out of the [car] trunk, the crazed doctor."

Salerno calls this the "bumps-on-my-head tops-of-my-shoes" period, meaning that he kept his head down whenever he went out. Eventually, Salerno had to find work, no small task for a middle-aged man with a felony record and ongoing mental issues.

His probation officer told him that a bread factory was hiring, but Salerno learned that felons weren't being considered. The doctor then attended a weeklong training program run by a cutlery company.

"I was, like, I'm not ready for this level of humiliation," Salerno recalls. "I thought, 'Do you have to get so low that you are selling knives to your family and friends?'"

He held out a while longer.

In April 2004, Salerno caught a break.

A vocational rehabilitation specialist working for the state mentioned Salerno to Lori Ashcroft — executive director of the Recovery Opportunity Center (the training and consulting wing of Recovery Innovations).

Dr. Ashcroft had a job opening for a teacher at the center, and the specialist suggested that she interview Salerno.

"Mark was in a completely hopeless state of mind when he first came in," Ashcroft recalls. "I really don't know how he drug himself out of bed to get there. But I looked at his résumé and thought it might work. A mental illness doesn't scare me. I've had to deal with that myself."

Ashcroft says she offered Salerno a job on the spot, thinking it would be a really good — or a really bad — hire.

"I asked him when he could start," she recalls. "He said, 'Are you kidding me? Tomorrow?'"

Ashcroft says Salerno soon won over new colleagues and students.

"I wasn't healed by any means — that's a lifelong process — but having a purpose to get up in the morning again was huge," Salerno says.

In 2005, Recovery Innovations (then META Services) moved Salerno to a counseling gig in Peoria, where he still works.

"I have been able to give meaning to my own experiences by helping other people," he says. "For me it's about the meaning. I don't buy the 'purpose' stuff because that means you were destined for something. I really don't think I'm that important."

Salerno often rode his bike back and forth from home to work daily, 171/2 miles one way. He says he did the trek for two reasons — the price of gasoline was rising, and he needed the workout, both physically and mentally.

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25 comments
MichaelYevtuck
MichaelYevtuck

Mike Yevtuck

I am the God of the USA hells angels  I punish the  USA hells angels for their decades of crimes victimizing women and children.I punish the USA hells angels for the gangs continued support to ruin the American way of life. to this day The USA hells angels Still in 2013 continue to raise money to help USA Hells angels sex offenders and USA hells angels involved with child porn . 


  I would not call my hate for the filthy fowl flock of USA hells angels anger issues .  I call the hate I have for the USA hells angels justified 

I call what I do real street justice funny I wonder where chuck got that idea from  that coward chuck Zito wrote a book about street justice yet he is on the losing  team with  the cowards and punks of the USA hells angels who cover and give money to registered sex offenders and men involved with child porn.


The USA hells angels is the same as it always was filled without of shape  cowards who hide in the flock they USA hells angels still vote registered and unregistered sex offenders to fill the flocks USA leadership roles I guess ensuring the position of sex offenders and child porn transporters and collectors into the next century.

The punks commenting here using my name could be Chuck Zito Sonny Barger or any USA hells angels or a man that dates USA hells angels I may have beat up or smacked around in the past . USA hells angels know better to try to attack or kill me. This is all the USA hells angels can do with out risking their Life they hide type and libel me like the cowardly bitchs they are.

Aundi
Aundi

Dr. Salerno was a wonderful doctor and an awesome person. Mental illness can hit anyone at anytime. I am so glad he has overcome the darkness and is once again making great contributions. Thank you Dr. Salerno for touching my familys lift. I hope you continue on your road to recovery and I know you will make a differance in all the lives you touch.

Marianne
Marianne

First of all, It is a nice story. I just do not want folks with mental issues to think they can over come the illness. Mental illness is like having a substance abuse problem; yes one can stop drinking and doing drugs, however it is a day-to day struggle. Mental concerns is the same way, one would learn coping skills, find the correct medication for that time frame. One can hope to have a good doctor that will listen to your problems. Have a healthy eating habits, do some kind of excersize to help relive stress. A health belief in some type "Higher Power" often helps. True folks with mental issues do lead productive, happy lives. Even so, staying on the right kind of doseage of medication and support groups and even having some one that you can trust to talk to that can keep you on the right path. Changes in this world, is something that can not be ignored, with the proper tools one can deal better then before, however to say one is fully recovered from mental illness; without having to be concern of relapses due to triggers like hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and remembering negative things that cause the mind to breakdown, is false hope. Mental stigma has changed over the years, through education, postive stories, along with documentation and better medications. A person can be dry dock for 40 years, but let them get tigger some how and they take that drug or drink and it does not matter they are still concidered to have a substance abuse.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

So, is this an excuse you're trying to use for not helping people with mental illnesses? Because if he can cure himself then anyone can? How about this one...if he can cure himself of his mental illness then maybe there's really no such thing and we can stop trying to help the 10 people per year who get services for it in this state. Think of all the money the politicians could siphon into their pockets.

Jenn Campbell
Jenn Campbell

Neat story, very inspiring on many levels to hear about someone who happens to be mentally ill who is on a journey of recovery and gets media attention for something good instead of the usual negative attention given to folks with mental illnesses by the media. Thanks for sharing this story, and I hope there are many more like it to follow!

dsgasgahasdh
dsgasgahasdh

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dsgasgahasdh
dsgasgahasdh

Hello, everybody, the good shoping place, the new season approaching, click in. Let's Facelift bar! ( http://fashion-long-4biz.com )Air Jordan (1-24) shoes $33 UGG BOOT $50 Nike shox (R4, NZ, OZ, TL1, TL2, TL3) $33 Handbags ( Coach Lv fendi D&G) $36 T-shirts (polo, ed hardy, lacoste) $16 Jean (True Religion, ed hardy, coogi)$30 Sunglasses ( Oakey, coach, Gucci, Armaini)$16 New era cap $16 ATO shoes $42 Gucci shoes $42 ,prada shoes $40 NBA jerseys $33 ,NHL jerseys $29 YSL shoes $85 Bikini (Ed hardy, polo) $18 Accept paypal payment, accept Credit card payments, electronic check payments. FREE SHIPPING ( http://fashion-long-4biz.com )

VongMee
VongMee

Now that dude has totally got game. WOw.

www.Total-Privacy dot US

A Parent
A Parent

It is my hope that some medical group will see this story and snatch Dr. Salerno up as fast as possible. He is a wonderful Pediatrician and he should be back in practice.

Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

What an amazing story Paul, thanks for sharing it. Also HUGE thanks to the Doc for being brave enough to share this story. People who don't work in mental health, or have loved ones who are facing these issues don't understand, and this helps. It is easy to just lump everyone in a group and ignore them, and this man is a great example of why that is wrong. Best wishes.

MIKE YEVTUCK
MIKE YEVTUCK

I bet he did alot of LSD and it made him go loco.

MIKE YEVTUCK
MIKE YEVTUCK

He still has that weird strange far away look in his eyes I wouldn't trust him at all. I have that same look in my eyes and i know I am 100% mentally unstable and could cause harm to others. DTA = dont trust anyone.

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

I doubt that. Chemistry of our brains isn't understood. Chemical imbalances are common.

Broski Love
Broski Love

mike is right, once youve been to the darkside and back, you can easily get there again.

MIKE YEVTUCK
MIKE YEVTUCK

Read the story again PTCGAZ stupid. it said he had a substance abuse problem years ago. and being he is from new jersey also in the story I bet he had a heroin problem like most druggies from new jersey and new york city have. the LSD thing was a joke. heroin and heroin use is all over back there in those parts. in the western USA the drug of choice is meth in the north east USA it is heroin and cocaine.

MIKE YEVTUCK
MIKE YEVTUCK

I understand you PTCGAZ are about 33 years old and you are unemployed.

MIKE YEVTUCK
MIKE YEVTUCK

my lame online jokes are also misunderstood as fact when they are merely cheap jokes based on nothing other than pure idiocy.

SteveMuratore
SteveMuratore

Whether he has or has not had a drug problem is not the issue. Mental illness can come out of the blue. And people sometimes can emerge from it. Going through hard times can make it easier to understand what others deal with.

Nemo4mimo
Nemo4mimo

u have no way of knowing what he did since u dont know him. i do and he's a straight shooter with no drugs. there r people who just have a breakdown and i hope it never happens to u.

Grannie
Grannie

I guess you didn't read the article too well. It says, "In his case, substance abuse never was an issue," He had no drug problem. Instead of trying to find some fault in him, mybe you could GET the whole point of the article: People can and do heal and become fully well.

Guest
Guest

with a nasty attitude like that its no wonder you can get hired for a job. your mean an mentally unstable also.

Guest
Guest

your still unemployed GET A JOB!

PTCGAZ
PTCGAZ

wow you are also a piece of shit troll. Sometimes I wonder if all the people are trolls that make lame jokes and fail to understand logic.

 
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