may27ptsd_t750x550Two weeks ago I received devastating news. My cousin shot and killed his wife and was found dead in a parking lot three days later. The news came as a surprise, no one expected this from him. This cousin was always spending time with his family, always smiling, in fact, every time I saw him he was in good spirits. I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever seen him participate in an argument or even angry. So when I heard the news I was beyond shocked. I harbored so many questions about the incident. What caused this? How will it affect the children? Why is this a recurring theme within our communities?

Reflecting on what transpired with my cousin and on similar situations like his led me to believe these incidents are a result of people suffering mental illnesses. Now I am no psychiatrist, so what I’m implying is strictly my own assessment about certain events. There’s a stigma within the African-American community, we believe that we are incapable of experiencing mental health problems. I’ve even observed people say things like, “he/she is crazy but they ain’t stupid” when referencing individuals that show clear signs of mental illness. When we say and believe things like that we are putting our own limitations on what we believe the person will or will not do.

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I remember hearing the story of the Beltway Parkway sniper attacks back in the year 2000, my first thoughts on the suspects were that they were white people. In my mind, there was no way in hell a black person would go around shooting innocent victims for no particular reason. There’s a limit to the type of crimes African-American people will commit; mass murdering, flesh-eating, and any other savagery were amongst the list of things I believed only white people could do. My assumption was black people aren’t that insane.

Now imagine my surprise my surprise when I learned that snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who killed a total of ten innocent people and injuring three victims were both men of color. Stunned at the discovery, I began to think about what happened in their lives to cause them to want to commit these horrific crimes.

The motive: In Malvo’s testimony he stated that he and Muhammad’s initial plan was to kill six white people for 30 days. Phase two of the plan was to kill a pregnant woman by shooting her in the stomach, then to kill a Baltimore police officer, and to set off explosives at the officer’s funeral in the attempt to kill a large number of cops. The third phase of the duo’s plan was to demand millions from the United States Government to help with their relocation to Canada to recruit black orphaned boys for gun training and secrecy to commit cross country murders.

Background: John Allen Muhammad lost his mother Eva Williams to cancer when Muhammad was only three years old. His father abandoned him after his mother’s death, leaving Muhammad to be raised by his aunt and grandfather. Muhammad joined the Louisiana Army National Guard in 1978 as a combat engineer quickly raising in ranks becoming a sergeant. In 1982 Muhammad plead guilty to willfully disobeying a lawful order for failing to appear on time for police duty. The convection led to Muhammad being fined and demoted from sergeant to specialist 4. He became a member of the Nation of Islam before serving in 1991 as a combat engineer in the Gulf War, helping a company dismantle Iraqi chemical warfare rockets. Muhammad was honorably discharged after 17 years of service from the army in 1994 and also went through two divorces. His last divorce from Mildred Muhammad was said to have left him devastated at the loss of custody of his three children.

Muhammad met Lee Boyd Malvo in Antigua Barbuda around 1999 after building a relationship with Malvo’s mother Una Sceon James. James left Malvo with Muhammad to come to the United States, the two followed suit about a year or two later. In an interview with the Washington Post ten years after the crimes were committed, Malvo admitted that he was under the control of Muhammad. Malvo stated in a television interview that he was sexually abused by Muhammad from the age of 15 up until he was arrested at the age 17. Malvo also admitted to being molested by a babysitter at 5 and again at 8 or 9 years of age by a relative.

Mental illness is usually caused by multiple factors like one’s environment, lifestyle, and genetics. It would be no surprise to learn that both Muhammad and Malvo may have suffered from mental illness brought on by society. The defendants were not granted a plea of insanity even though their actions were classified as having psychopathy tendencies attributed to signs of a serial killer.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illness refers to disorders that can cause changes in a person’s mood, thoughts, or behavior at any time. The following is a list of signs and symptoms to help you identify if you or a loved one may be suffering mental health problems.

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Signs and symptoms:

  • Inability to concentrate and/or confused thinking.
  •  Extended periods of feeling sad and down.
  • Intense mood swings.
  • Isolation from loved ones and activities.
  • Change in eating habits and/or sex drive.
  • Thoughts of suicide.
  • Uncontrollably hostility, violence, and anger.
  • Unable to deal with problems/stress.
  • Trouble relating to other people/ situations.
  • Delusional- separating oneself from reality, experiencing hallucinations and/or paranoia.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.

Due to high mental health risk factors, black people are 20% more likely than the rest of the population to experience severe mental health problems, according to Health and Human Services of Minority Health. Some of the most common mental health disorders associated with people of African American decent are Major depression, Suicide, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Posttraumatic stress disorder.

African Americans can and do suffer from severe mental illness. If you or anyone you know suffers any signs or symptoms associated with mental health illness, seek help immediately. Don’t be afraid of what others will think, find someone to talk to so you can cope with your problems. Besides, if a guy like Ethan Couch who killed four in a deadly drunk driving car crash was said to have suffered from a rare mental illness called Affluenza, then it’s possible for someone living in extreme poverty to suffer mental illness due to their conditions.