Fractured Lives

I was going to post a topic that merited a discussion, but I have something a lot more important to roll out this afternoon.

In the past, I have written about mental illness and suicide, and the ongoing misunderstanding and handling of individuals who are affected by mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar depression, among a few others.  I have also disclosed my personal battle with depression.


Jeffrey Krier battled mental illness. A judge rejected his family request to have him committed. As a result, he shot and killed a Keokuk County sheriff's deputy on Monday. (Photo submitted to The Des Moines Register)

On Monday, Jeffrey Krier, who had a long history of mental illness, fired upon Keokuk County authorities, killing deputy Eric Stein.  Krier’s family went to a judge to commit him to a facility, and the judge rejected it.

This tragic incident reminds you of another well-publicized tragedy involving mental illness.  I don’t have to remind you what it is if you live here in Iowa:  the death of Coach Ed Thomas.  In January, Jared Lee Loughner walked up to a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona and fired upon a crowd who were there to talk with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Six were killed.  Loughner had a history of mental illness.

Last week, unbeknownst to everyone, another incident took place in Waterloo.  Police was called to a disturbance at a home.  A young man fled the scene and a car chase ensued.  The chase ended on the 4th Street bridge in downtown Waterloo, when the young man jumped into the Cedar River.  He floated down the river for 10 blocks before rescue crews were able to pull him out near the 11th Street bridge.

The kid’s name is Clifton Jenes, age 19.  Clifton is the son of Kim Sanders.

Kim Sanders is my cousin.

Clifton have battled mental illness for years.  His father committed suicide in 1993.


My cousin Kim and her son Clifton.

It is no surprise that there is a stigma in the black community in respects to mental illness.  The black community has a strong distrust of physicians and medical professionals.  Mental health is a “taboo” subject.  We prefer to “pray it out” than seek help.  Yes, faith is an integral part of our community and lives, but faith alone isn’t enough.

The suicide rate among black men has doubled since 1980, making suicide the third leading cause of death for black men between the ages 15 and 24, according to a column by the website Healthy Places in 2008.

It’s not a rosy picture at all.

Rather than hide it, Kim went public about Clifton’s battle with depression.  It’s an encouraging sign for me, because the more we learn about how devastating mental illness can be, the more people are willing to understand it, talk about it in public, and seek help.  I’m hopeful that this will signal a trend in the African American community, and at large, to not dismiss mental illness and sweep it under the rug.

I’m treading on thin ice here because my family is very private when it comes to talking about them in public.  There are lines I do not cross when it comes to putting my family in a public blog.  It is why with Kim talking about what her family has went through, I can write this without worrying about the reaction towards it.

I can’t say this enough, probably because there is someone out there I know, or don’t know, who doesn’t think it will happen to them or to someone they know.  Know what the signs of mental disorder is.  If someone isn’t “themselves”, depressed for longer than 2-3 weeks, or is thinking about what life would be like if they weren’t here, don’t screw around and make guesses.

Call for help.  Offer support.  Don’t dismiss it.

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