The man who gunned down 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, the woman who tried to ram her car into a White House barricade, and the man who set himself on fire on the National Mall share bizarre tragic connections: They all died violently in Washington, D.C. after erratic episodes; they all perhaps had some form of mental illness. And they were all black.
Today, there is a deep curiosity about how so many black folks, in the span of just a few weeks, could become involved in such irrational behavior that led to their deaths in high-profile situations. Two of them were shot to death by police.
Are black Americans not getting the mental health treatment they need? Do friends and family sometimes overlook red flags about strange behavior? And is mental health still a stigma in the black community, an issue that many black folks prefer to ignore?
Only 61 percent of Americans think it appropriate to tell family members about a mental illness diagnosis, according to a recent study commissioned by the New York City Metro chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Just 43 percent approve of telling friends about a diagnosis, and just 13 percent of telling co-workers.
“These incidents will probably increase if we don’t bring something into the light and discuss it,” Don Lemon, an anchor on CNN, said on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” last week. “And that is mental health among black people, or the converse, which is mental illness, which are taboo subjects in our community.”
Here are the circumstances surrounding three African Americans who are dead because of their peculiar behavior:
Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut, was shot dead by police last week after a high-speed chase that ended with the shutdown of the U.S. Capitol, may have been suffering from postpartum psychosis, according to one psychiatric expert.
Carey may have thought President Barack Obama was stalking her and she had a family history of schizophrenia. Her one-year-old daughter was in the car at the time police shot Carey to death. Carey’s boyfriend reported she was emotionally disturbed and that he suspected her of abuse and neglect of their daughter.
But Carey’s sisters, appearing on CNN Monday, said Miriam Carey “seemed fine” days before her death and they questioned the use of deadly force by police.
“The question is why was she killed in Washington, D.C.,” said Valerie Carey. “She was afraid, she was frightened, and she was trying to get out of there.”
“My sister did not have a gun, she was not shooting from her vehicle,” Carey said, adding that police were not justified in shooting Miriam Carey.
Amy Carey-Jones said her sister, Miriam, was not delusional. “There were no signs of delusion, no voices,” she said.