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otty sanchez and baby

The case of 34-year old mom Otty Sanchez was shocking and sad.  Sanchez was arrested after chewing off the toes of her three week old child and eating part of his brain.  Even more surprising to some was the fact that Sanchez wasn’t sent to prison for her crime after being ruled to be insane.

Declaring Sanchez insane was the most logical and humane decision for a woman who clearly has some serious psychological problems.  In can only imagine the pain that must tear through her heart when she realizes what she did to her child.  What’s also sad about this case is that both Otty and her son, Scott Wesley, were failed miserably by our mental health system.

Ms. Sanchez knew something was wrong and tried to get help.  She went to the hospital, telling doctors that she was hearing voices and having other problems.  Rather than receiving the help she needed, Sanchez was sent away after being diagnosed with postpartum depression.  By not helping this woman in need, we as a society are accomplices to her child’s murder.

There are millions of Americans sentenced to prison for committing heinous crimes, when the truth is that they were mentally ill.  One man killed his entire family and ate both of his eyeballs in prison before the courts decided to consider the fact that he may have had a psychological imbalance.  Millions of the homeless we step over in the streets suffer from undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, making them incapable of just “getting it together” the way we hope they will.  While we are quick to assume that “those crazy people over there” have nothing to do with the rest of us, please consider the fact that you and I are only one chemical imbalance away from doing things that we could never imagine ourselves doing.  If someone slipped us the wrong drug or if we were to have a brain problem, we could all be as unfortunate as Ms. Sanchez.

The point here is that we must find ways to show support and compassion for those among us who suffer from mental illness.  Chastising them, ignoring them and putting them in prison is a poor reflection of who we are as a people.  In order to ensure that Scott Wesley’s death was not in vain, we should evaluate our mental health care system to give help to those who need it the most.

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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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