Tragedy on the Hudson
Cyril Josh Barker | , Amsterdam News Staff | 8/24/2011, 3:31 p.m.
Last week's tragic death of a woman who drove herself and her children into the Hudson River in Newburgh, N.Y., still has people asking, "How could she?" And while there are no easy answers for this terrible act, it is increasing the conversation on depression and mental health in the Black community.
Reports indicate that LaShanda Armstrong, 25, drove herself and her four children into the Hudson River after an incident at her and her boyfriend's apartment. Armstrong was upset because she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her.
The children in the minivan were 10-year-old La'Shaun Armstrong, 5-year-old Landen Pierre, 2-year-old Lance Pierre and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre.
"If I'm going to die, we're all going to die," Armstrong reportedly said before driving her family into the Hudson River.
As the car sank into the river, La'Shaun was able to swim out of the vehicle to safety, leaving his siblings and mother behind. La'Shaun, who knew how to swim, feels a heavy load of guilt for not being able to save his siblings who could not.
Upon reaching the shore, La'Shaun went into the street and flagged down a car for help. Soaking wet, he quickly got the attention of motorist Meave Ryan. La'Shaun explained to her what happened and Ryan called the police.
After an hour, the City of Newburgh fire and police departments found the minivan under 10 feet of water, 25 yards from the shore. La'Shaun told police officers what had happened, and spoke of his regret and guilt over not being able to save his young siblings. The guilt-stricken boy said that, during the final moments as the water began to fill the minivan, his mother began to scream words of regret, but it was too late.
The family's tragic story is actually just the face of mental illness and the depression that often results from it that so many African-Americans are dealing with. According to statistics, 63 percent of African-Americans view depression as a "personal weakness." Only 7 percent of African-American women seek treatment for depression, while 92 percent of African-American men do not seek any help for depression.
Factors that can lead to depression include financial issues, traumatic life experiences, health problems and being a victim of abuse, violence or poverty. Left untreated, depression can be fatal.
Terrie Williams, author of the acclaimed book, "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting," said that there is a stigma in the Black community around mental illness. It is perceived that a person is insane, which detours many Black people from seeking the help they need.
"We're all very fragile," Williams said. "A lot of depression begins from a basic place. All of us move through the world with unresolved wounds from our childhood. Many of us have not opened up and we don't have any coping skills."
Williams added that in Armstrong's case, things most likely became too much for her and she felt a sense of worthlessness. While she was probably aware of the anger and rage that she felt, Williams said it was not a case of her not loving her children--she was probably pushed over edge by dealing with issues in her relationship without seeking outside help.