“I Didn’t Know she was Mentally Ill”: A personal story by Deborah Ford
About four years ago, I was on my way to work. I was standing at the bus stop waiting for the Algiers loop. I was just standing there minding my own business smoking a cigarette like I did every morning. Then out of nowhere, this large white woman approach me; she had to be about 250 pounds. She was wearing a blue hospital smock outfit. But for some strange reason, her clothing did not register to me that she might had been release from some sort of hospital facility. Still smoking my cigarette, she asked me for one and I told her that this was my last one. She vehemently ask me if she could have the one that I was smoking and I looked at her, and my response to her was no! Although, I had a fresh pack. I felt like you should really buy your own shit. Well, she was not taking no for an answer. I ignored her and took long slow drags off my cigarette. Then, out the corner of my left eye, I saw this large white hand sweeping across my face as she grabbed my cigarette out of my mouth. I turned to look at her and felt a rage as I stomped a hole in her dirty ass. I was shocked that someone would be so bold as to do something like that.
The police pulled up and asked me “what happened”? I told him that she attacked me. The officer asked“Do you want to press charges”, but I told him no. He politely pulled me to the side and told me that he knew her. She was a mental patient that he had dealt with from time to time. I asked him why she was not in a mental facility and he told me that there are not enough beds for patients like her. I looked over at her while she was sitting on the ground in a fetal position and I felt badly that she was mentally ill and could not control her behavior. However, during that moment I had to defend myself. I did not know what she was really capable of doing to me. I could have really been hurt or even dead. In the city of New Orleans, it is mind-blowing to watch so many mentally ill people walk these streets. But, I feel sympathetic for the mentally ill. I cannot imagine the daily struggles these poor souls have to go through. The constant hearing of voices that are not there proves to be an emotional parallel that affect the families who have to provide care for them.
Being black and mentally ill has been viewed by some families as a dirty little secret. The social and economic conditions make it difficult for some to accept the seriousness of living with a mental individual. Also, the lack of education has made it difficult to understand what mental illness is and what it can do to the family both socially and economically. For some, many families forgo mental health and rely strongly on their faith instead of seeking professional treatment for their loved ones. It is unfortunate that we do not take mental illness serious in the black community, because when a mentally ill person who has serious bouts of paranoid schizophrenic, depression, (PTSD) post traumatic stress disorder, and environmental homelessness can result in mental conditions that can lead to suicide, death of a love one or a stranger who is unaware that she just had an encounter with a mentally challenged person.
Author: Deborah Ford