'Why We MUST Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness'

Miriam Carey

It's been a few weeks since the tragic death of Miram Carey, the young mother who was killed by Capitol Police after a car chase near the White House. Yet she, her family and her struggles with mental illness remain on my mind. 

 

In the hours after the shooting, I tweeted this. 

 

 

 

 

Then, like millions of others, I got swept up in the Scandal season premiere Twitter takeover. In the middle of a flurry retweets and favorites, there were these three words:

 

 

 

 

After reading this I’m immediately returned to the facts of the day: A vibrant young woman exhibited unusual, dangerous, threatening behavior in a high security section of Washington DC. She was then shot dead with her baby in the car. And here is her sister—someone grappling with a grief I know all too well. 

In a subsequent Anderson Cooper 360 interview with Valarie and her sister Amy, it was revealed that Miriam did not have bi-polar disorder, as the medications found in her home suggested. Rather, she was suffering with post-partum depression with psychosis over the past year with no prior history. When the sisters told Cooper that they will never know what their sister was thinking on that fateful day, I know that they were speaking the truth. And I know how it feels to have no understanding of the actions of someone you know so well.

Miriam Carey’s face was more than familiar, she was family.

Though the Carey sisters have made it clear their focus is not on Miriam’s death but her vibrant life, I believe that this tragedy, like the Navy Yard shooting, should focus us on mental illness.

There’s been mental illness in my family for generations. I know how incredibly difficult it is to have some one you know so well being totally “normal” one day then so different doing something severely abnormal the next. Loving a person with an “uncommon” mind is complicated. Unlike other family diseases like diabetes or cancer, when someone's brain malfunctions and not their kidney, knowing what to do when they are in crisis is far more mysterious.

It’s alleged that Miriam’s boyfriend, alarmed when she showed signs of being delusional and paranoid, called the police. If this is so (Amy and Valarie are questioning these allegations), his impulse was right, to tell someone, to seek help...but is law enforcement the right way to go? Are the police equip or trained to determine mental illness? I believe calling the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) would have been a better move.

One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experience mental illness in a given year. One in 17, about 13.6 million, live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Yet, approximately 60 percent of adults, and almost one-half of youth ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no mental health services last year. African American and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one half the rate of Whites.

There are serious questions as to whether law enforcement and medical professionals have adequate training around mental illness. But this, I know for sure: we need less silence in our families and more education and access to affordable services in our communities.

In my family history of mental illness, there have been creative and productive lives and baffling tragic ends, the difference between the two has been education, support, proper and continuous care. There are many historic and systemic reasons why Blacks don’t seek mental health services, but I am hopeful that this generation will seize the moment and break the cycle of stigma. The most powerful thing we can do is let go of the shame, share our stories and seek support

After all, we are our sisters' keepers.

 

Michaela angela Davis is an Image Activist and writer, Editorial Brand Manager for BET Networks and a CNN Contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @MichaelaAngelaD