Tag Archives: Mental Health

How I Survived the Collision of Racism and the Stigma of Mental Illness

by Marcus Harrison Green

(This article first ran in The Seattle Times and appears under a co-publishing agreement)

Survivor’s guilt terrorizes me sometimes. Why am I so lucky when others sharing my complexion and battling mental health struggles are not? That question arises every time I read about Black people with mental illnesses killed by police: Charleena Lyles, Daniel Prude, Manuel Ellis. Their specters summon us to the reality of a nation besotted with violence and indifferent to the vulnerable.

The 55 people with mental illnesses killed in Washington state by police since 2015, according to The Washington Post’s police-shooting database, also prompt reflection on my luck in avoiding their fate as I live with bipolar disorder.

In 2018, I had a psychotic episode in the middle of downtown Seattle. Walking down Fifth Avenue, with a mind crammed with carnage, I nearly destroyed my lungs screaming that I wanted to kill myself. 

My mother was by my side. 

Nearly a foot shorter and 60 pounds lighter, she could only pray. My sizzling brain cells were impervious to pleas of reason. 

Frightened for her son, she had only two options: somehow calm me down enough to try to stuff me into an Uber headed for family and friends, or call 911.

She did a rapid assessment: Black man, non-responsive, frantic. She pictured a police encounter quickly escalating into violence.

“What if they kill my son?”

She wanted to avoid the gnawing guilt that plagues Joe Prude, as he told The New York Times’ Daily podcast, after he called the police to assist his brother Daniel during a mental health crisis. Daniel’s encounter with them ended in death, ruled a homicide by complications of asphyxia.

Even if my scenario didn’t end as grotesquely, what about arrest? Turning me over to a racist criminal justice system would likely terminate any professional ambitions.

She opted not to call. Instead, she braved the horror-on-wheels that was a 30 minute Uber ride with a bellicose son, and a superhumanly patient driver.

My race meant I was six times more likely to be killed by police than a white person is, according to a Harvard study. An untreated mental illness further boosted the likelihood of death by police, 16 times as much, according to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center. 

When the bias of race merges with the stigma of mental illness to collide with law enforcement and criminal justice systems inadequately addressing either, what else can be produced except disaster?

“Race matters and it is true that implicit bias does exist. And then you have an officer and someone in a mental health crisis who are experiencing two different realities,” says Nikki Jones, a professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies encounters between the public and police. 

It’s why current conversation around reshaping policing and our criminal justice system must be scrutinized in the context of officers being utilized as intended by society, says Jones.

“Another way we think about policing is as an institution that allows for a sufficient distribution of violence into the public. Violence is a centrality to policing. It’s demonstrated in the ability and the effort to defend police to use violence,” says Jones.

Of course that violence is not equally distributed in society. Jones points to a recent Pew poll that showed 56% of police officers agreed that it’s more useful to be aggressive in “certain” areas of the city. 

That’s a subtler way of saying Black people need to be policed more harshly. 

Imagine when that’s coupled with the force multiplier of the stigma often associated with mental illness. 

“There’s so much public misperception about violence and mental illness. If the public thinks that, then law enforcement is going to think that,” says Jennifer Piel, a University of Washington professor who helped launch the university’s Center for Mental Health, Policy, and the Law.

And there lies the heart of the problem, and the reason Black people and those with mental illnesses are overrepresented in police shootings and in the criminal justice system Piel studies. And the reason they are underrepresented in budget considerations. 

Bias feeds stigma, and stigma bias. 

It’s a reason we’ve continued hacking at our state’s mental health budget even before our pandemic without much resistance. Currently, King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency program stares down a projected $42 million shortfall.

“[T]here is no replacement for a well-funded mental health system and increased cross-system coordination of services between medical care, mental health services, and the criminal justice system,” says Piel.

Budgets, policing, policy are nothing more than visible instruments of our society, crafted with entrenched prejudices, fears and ignorance. 

Until our society commits itself to narratives rivaling our current biases, and not merely responding to those biases’ symptoms, we’ll continue having ornamental pledges to social change vanish upon backlash. 

Imagine narratives not equating Black people with a need for social control or those casting people with mental illnesses as social defects.

For them, life and death would no longer rest on chance, but consideration. 

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald and a Seattle Times columnist.

Featured image is attributed to Victoria Pickering under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Wired for Connection: Adapting in the Coronavirus Era

by Liz Covey, LMHC

I saw a friend recently that I haven’t seen in months, this being COVID times. She has started a new job — a move she’d wanted for a long time. I asked what it was like to “onboard” during this bizarre time in our history — when meeting all of her co-workers and learning all the ins and outs of a new workplace takes place 100 percent online. “It’s actually great” she said, adding, “especially since I made a friend.” 

“That’s wonderful!” I replied. Then, without a thought to how this might sound — a sure sign I’m spending more time in my head lately than in social gatherings — I asked her: “How do you really know you are friends, with everything being so different now? I mean, you can’t go to lunch or chat on your way to the meeting or get a drink after work … ”

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OPINION: Why Does Seattle Public Schools Spend $3.2 Million on Security Guards?

by Kayla Blau

A seven-year-old Black student was put in a chokehold by a white school security guard at Stevens Elementary in March, right before schools closed due to COVID-19. The incident further exposed Seattle Public School’s commitment to punitive policing of students, a dangerous practice that fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.

KUOW reported that the student was screaming “I can’t breathe!” while the security guard, David Raybern, held her in an illegal restrictive hold with his “right forearm across her neck,” the article noted. Principal John Hughes was present for the abuse and did not intervene. 

Continue reading OPINION: Why Does Seattle Public Schools Spend $3.2 Million on Security Guards?

When You Thought You’d Seen It All … Healing From Racial Trauma

by Ashley McGirt

When I first saw the scars so deeply rooted into the back of an African American slave, I thought I had seen it all. When I viewed a photo of Emmett Till for the first time, I thought I had seen it all. I can still see his mother’s face, the cries that were captured on film, the crevices in the corners of her eyes that would form valleys so deep no one would ever dare travel through. I studied her face, then went back to her son’s face that no longer bore a resemblance to anything human. In that moment I saw how Americans can, and still do, view Black people as less than human. I remember Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Charleena Lyles, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the countless others who we have lost to police violence. You continue to think you have seen it all until the newest tragedy is unveiled.

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Calling Out White Supremacy in Seattle’s Mental Health Establishment: One Therapist’s Confession

by Liz Covey, LMHC

“Miserable is exactly how the white people who want to help should be feeling right now, and then they should sit with that misery until something breaks in their brain, the narrative changes in their psyche, and the legacy of emotional paralysis lifts entirely.”

—Rebecca Carroll, The Atlantic (June 2020) 

I’ve had this saying about my work for years now, and it goes like this: I will spend the rest of my career indebted to the (mostly Black) kids and foster families with whom I worked early on, and who had to put up with my sorry self, before I knew the damage I was causing as a white practitioner in Black spaces. I dedicate any good work I do today to these kids. In the spirit of Black Lives Matter, I Say Their Names, to myself, in my heart, on the regular. 

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Ask a Therapist: Learning to Live in an Indefinite Crisis

by Liz Covey

Question: This shutdown thing feels like it will last forever, even though I know it won’t. At first I was sort of rolling with it, I got some masks, and checked in with my neighbors and all my family members. But now I’m beginning to unravel a bit. I’m not really sleeping well, and my husband tells me I’m being really negative. Should I try to remain positive, even though I’m starting to kind of lose it? There is so much advice out there, I can barely stand to even look at it anymore. What should I do??

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Whose Suffering Matters?

by Jasmine Pulido

My suffering is nothing.

I’m sitting at home, safe and sound. Is it possible to still feel shitty despite how good I have it? Does it matter?

When I participate in comparative suffering, I lose every time. While the homeless in Las Vegas are being “quarantined” by laying in marked-off squares in a parking lot, while my mom-friends are telling me that they now juggle full-time work-from-home with arduous attempts at homeschooling their children, while essential workers risk daily exposure to disease to sustain their (and our collective) livelihood, how much weight can I possibly put on my own suffering?

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Ask A Therapist: Healing from and holding accountable perpetrators of childhood abuse

Counselors Roy Fisher and Liz Covey answer readers’ questions for South Seattle Emerald’s “Ask A Therapist.” Have a question about a relationship? Wondering about the struggles of being a parent? Others likely have the same questions and Covey and Fisher bring years of professional experience to provide their insights.

In this article, Liz Covey addresses a reader’s question about holding perpetrators of childhood abuse accountable, and healing from that trauma.

If you have a question, please click here and let us know. We will select two questions each month to answer. The form requires no email address or identification and is completely anonymous. If you are in crisis or in immediate need of care, please contact Crisis Connections at 1-866-427-4747.

Question: how can adult survivors of childhood abuse do more to hold perpetrators accountable? After all the healing’s done. In my case, I am wondering about the possibility of either bring a public display to the perpetrators home via fliers, signs, etc., but I also know our courts are designed to make a person whole again after suffering personal injury. I’ll be living with my disability, due to emotional and physical abuse for my lifetime. What do you know about the possibility of filing a personal injury claim against a living perpetrator childhood and adult abuse?”

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Submit Your Questions to the Emerald’s “Ask a Therapist” Column

by Emerald Staff

South Seattle Emerald Contributors Liz Covey and Roy Fisher are professional counselors ready to answer your questions in a monthly column, “Ask A Therapist.” The two are professionals providing their insight on your anonymous questions.

Continue reading Submit Your Questions to the Emerald’s “Ask a Therapist” Column