Mental Health for Black People (and others)

You know someone who has a mental health issue.  And I don’t mean a bad attitude.  So did Otty Sanchez’s friends, neighbors and family.

SAN ANTONIO – The warning signs were there. Otty Sanchez, a schizophrenic with a history of hospitalizations, wasn’t taking medication and was depressed after her son’s birth, the boy’s father said. A simple request seemed to set her off, alarming him and his family.

Yet, the 33-year-old woman was staying in a house where she had access to samurai swords. Child welfare officials were never called.

Instead, Sanchez’s troubles became apparent to authorities when they found her before dawn Sunday screaming that she had killed her baby. Her 3 1/2-week-old son was dismembered in a scene so gruesome that police were left shaken.

There were people around Banita Jacks who knew something was wrong.

(CBS/AP) A mother found in her home with the decomposing bodies of her four daughters was charged Thursday with murder after reportedly telling investigators that the children were possessed by demons and died in their sleep.

Banita Jacks, 33, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and appeared in District of Columbia Superior Court. She told police that the deaths occurred before a utility turned off her electricity, which prosecutors said was in September 2007, according to charging documents.

Around 30 members of Banita Jacks’s family and friends attended Thursday evening’s hearing. They left the courthouse without comment, reports CBS News affiliate WUSA-TV in Washington.

What was there for Jacks’ family to say?

My mother and three of her sisters suffer(ed) from bipolar disorder.  I thank God that my brain chemistry and DNA didn’t betray me and leave me with such a devastating illness.

But I know that if mental illness is ignored, the consequences can only be bad.

Mental illness can’t be prayed away.  You can’t simply will yourself into doing better.  Even talk therapy and medication are no guarantees.

If we turn our backs on a schizophrenic living in his own feces because he says, he wants to live outdoors, we have slave minds.  We believe that African Americans can’t experience complex emotions like depression or disorders like  OCD.  We believe that everyone is playing the race card and trying to get over.  If my own mind betrayed me, I’m not sure what I that I wouldn’t play games to try to get a grip on my situation.

As exhausting as it is to help someone with a serious psychiatric condition.  As inadequate as most programs are, we can clearly see that relying on overwhelmed professionals (social workers, et al.)  isn’t cutting it.  We have to be involved if we don’t want to see more headlines like this and sad, broken bodies and families.

And God help us if we don’t face up to all of it.  Some psychotics do behave violently at times.  Others will never recover.  Others do need institutionalization.

Don’t wait.

Get help.

Saddle up.

National Alliance on Mental Illness – for the mentally ill AND their families and friends – for an urban flavor


And I didn’t show their pictures on purpose.  Rest in peace, sisters.


About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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