Steve Stephens, Corey Perry, & Mental Illness: What Can We Do?

By: Jasmine Cochran

The Facebook killer, Steve Stephens, has committed suicide after a short police chase.

It’s the second high-profile suicide of a black man within a week’s time, as Corey Perry, a middle school teacher from Florida, killed himself last week by gunshot. Daily Mail reports that he was “wanted for production of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, and enticement.” His suicide took place in Tennessee, where he was believed to have had family.

Steve Stephens was a case manager at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency in Pepper Pike near Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as a vocational specialist for the Assertive Community Treatment team, a group that provides support to teens and young adults, helping them find employment.

There are conflicting reports as to what kind of person he was. Some say that although Stephens had a gambling problem, he was a good friend with a calm demeanor. He seemed normal, like everything was fine in his life, and had even achieved a master’s degree, a notable accomplishment.

Others, like neighbors from his youth, claim that he tried to entice women with a pet snake, and he harmed his pet bird by slapping him to the ground and laughing about it, as the bird lay seemingly lifeless on the floor.

Stephens had recently experienced a break-up from his long time partner, Joy Lane, when he began to post on social media that he wanted to kill innocent people. He posted about how life had been especially difficult as of late, and he asked Facebook to give him reasons why he shouldn’t kill someone and spend the rest of his life in jail. He ended the post with the hashtag, “#teamdeathrow.”

Shortly after posting, he killed Robert Godwin, Sr., a 74-year-old father of nine and grandfather of at least 12. Stephens filmed the murder and posted it on Facebook. Within hours, his account was deactivated.

The human psyche has a way of attributing the worst of a person to their character as a whole. We very easily morph people into flat characters, even to the point of labeling them by their greatest accomplishments or their most damning offenses. Calling someone a great basketball player, or a rapist, or a loving mother, or a murderer strips them of the dynamics that make them a complete person. When it comes to someone who’s committed an atrocity such as murder or the distribution of child porn, we don’t usually care to know the rest of their story; we just want them punished.

Both Stephens and Perry were black men who had reached some kind of honorable success. They both were involved in the betterment of their communities. They both were college graduates. However, they both committed unspeakable crimes against humanity, and now, they’re both dead, and by their own choice.

The black community is not exempt from mental illness. While many of us are taught to exude strength at all cost, unresolved issues spread throughout the mind and will eventually manifest themselves outwardly. If they remain unchecked, they can give birth to the tragedies we see today, like the ones committed at the hands of Stephens and Perry.

We are our brothers’ keepers. The signs of mental illness aren’t always noticeable, but a few that we should keep our eyes open for are as follows:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and extreme highs and lows
  • Suicidal thoughts or comments
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities

Mental illness is a touchy subject, and it isn’t always clear as to how we can get involved. However, there are a few practical steps we can take if you notice the above behaviors in a friend or loved one:

  1. Do not ignore the signs. If something seems off, it’s better to say something than to ignore it and hope it goes away.
  2. Do not encourage someone to deal with traumatizing situations on their own or “snap out of it.” There are professionals who are trained to provide practical help for people dealing with mental illness.
  3. Encourage loved ones to seek the guidance of a professional. If that doesn’t work, try contacting social services on their behalf.

Walking through the darkness of mental distress with someone is never easy, but if our concern and action prevent harm or death, the discomfort is completely worth the energy.

Read the original stories here and here.

Jasmine believes in love, presence, and justice. She also believes in communication, so leave a comment!

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