Are We Ready To Talk About Mental Health Now? This is the question many family members, friends and associates are asking themselves

How could a son, who has been described by his pastor as being “intelligent” and “thoughtful”, fatally stab his own mother without any warning?

This is the question many family members, friends and associates are asking themselves, as they try to make sense of why 22-year-old Blake Jefferson unsuspectingly and brutally stabbed his mother, 48-year-old Dedre Jefferson, to death at her southwest Houston home.

According to investigators, Blake killed his mother early Friday morning, all while she was carrying on a conversation with her own mother about his seemingly strange behavior. As Dedre communicated with her mother, Blake began to stab her, and all her mother could do was listen to the screams of her daughter as she was being stabbed, before the phone call went silent. It was then that Dedre’s mother called 9-1-1 and when detectives showed up on the scene, they found Dedre stabbed to death in the garage of her home. Upon searching for Blake, they eventually found him hiding in the closet of a nearby townhome that he allegedly broke into. Dedre Jefferson was declared dead at the scene.

“Her daughter called her to tell her, her grandson was acting strangely then started screaming that he was stabbing her,” said Sgt. Ben Beall with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “He began to hallucinate. He had taken some of her pills.”

According to investigators, Blake Jefferson used several different kitchen knives during the unsuspected attack on his mother. It is believed that Blake experienced a drug overdose, so he was treated for a possible drug overdose, before being officially charged with the murder of his mother.

Dedre Jefferson, who was a two-time cancer survivor and recently elected member of the Alief Independent School District board, never anticipated the violent and fatal reaction from her son.

According to Pastor Gregg Patrick, pastor of The Bridge Southwest Community Christian Center where the family attended, he could not believe that Blake Jefferson could be capable of this behavior.

“I baptized him at 8 years old and he’s been in my church most of his life,” said Patrick. “He’s not a violent young man. He’s a very intelligent and thoughtful young man. He always has been. He had been having visions. He had been having communication he felt with The Lord. I felt that I should meet with him immediately. Something made him snap.”

This past Monday, mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil outside Alief ISD headquarters, but earlier that day, family members and observers caught a glimpse of Blake Jefferson as he was led out of a holding cell into the courtroom of state District Judge Jeannine Barr for his first court appearance after the deadly ordeal. It was an extremely emotional court appearance indeed.

Wearing a court-issued orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, Blake Jefferson appeared before the judge, where she read him his legal rights and had him uncuffed so that he could sign some necessary court documents. After signing those documents, bailiffs began to escort Blake Jefferson out, but not before he turned around to face his family and friends; placed his hand over his heart; cried deeply and let out several load moans; bent over, seemingly due to the weight of the crime he now knows he committed. The judge set his bond at $50,000.

One of the things shared by a family spokesperson at the candlelight vigil was stirring, yet relevant to a serious issue that has been mostly ignored and has become a far too taboo subject in the Black community – the issue of mental illness.

“We have, in our community, not to be ashamed, afraid to reach out,” said the family spokesperson as she gave out the crisis hotline number for mental health issues to attendees. “Too often you’re ashamed; you don’t want people to know your deep, dark family secrets.”

Issues surrounding mental health challenges have dominated the news headlines recently, like with entertainer Kanye West, where it appears the issue of mental health is becoming increasingly problematic, yet viewed by many as no big deal or something to simply laugh at.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African Americans include:

– Major depression

– Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

– Suicide, among young African American men

– Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime

African Americans are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition:

– Homelessness. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental health condition. African Americans make up 40% of the homeless population.

– Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. African American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than other children.

Because of the lack of information about mental health issues, it’s not always clear where to find help when you may need it.

According to experts at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, in the African American community, family, community and spiritual beliefs tend to be great sources of strength and support. However, research has found that many African Americans rely on faith, family and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though medical or therapeutic treatment may be necessary.

Mental health treatment is often underutilized, with patients reluctant to seek these services and insurers reluctant to pay for them. Research has suggested that less than one-half of people with serious mental illness receive treatment.

In 1996, Mental Health America, the leading advocacy organization addressing the full spectrum of mental and substance use conditions and their effects nationwide, commissioned a national survey on clinical depression. The survey explored the barriers preventing Americans seeking treatment and gauged overall knowledge of and attitudes toward depression.

This survey revealed that:

– 63 percent of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness; this is significantly higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent.

– Only 31 percent of African Americans believed that depression was a “health problem.”

– African Americans were more likely to believe that depression was “normal” than the overall survey average.

– 56 percent believed that depression was a normal part of aging

– 45 percent believed it was normal for a mother to feel depressed for at least two weeks after giving birth

– 40 percent believed it was normal for a husband or wife to feel depressed for more than a year after the death of a spouse.

Barriers to the treatment of depression cited by African Americans included:

– Denial (40 percent)

– Embarrassment/shame (38 percent)

– Don’t want/refuse help (31 percent)

– Lack money/insurance (29 percent)

– Fear (17 percent)

– Lack knowledge of treatment/problem (17 percent)

– Hopeless (12 percent)

– African Americans were less likely to take an antidepressant for treatment of depression; only 34 percent would take one if it were prescribed by a doctor.

Nationally-recognized mental health advocate Dr. Robert Gilmore believes the African American community has to be more responsive and educated to address the mental health issue and that the community must be accountable for the survival of itself.

“The reality of mental illness, it is not going away,” Gilmore said. “If I don’t do anything else in the course of this time period, I want them to realize they need to have programs in place for the next generation of people affected.”

The realities and the results of mental health issues are starting to become more and more of an issue within the African American community and people need to know where to go to get assistance. For those who may not be aware or need to know where they can go for help, the Mental Health Association of America, www.nmha.org, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org, are two examples of groups which offer invaluable resources for families and communities being underutilized within the African American community.

The Forward Times extends our deepest sympathies to the family of Dedre Jefferson, and will keep our readers up-to-date on any new developments in the case as they arise.