Blog /Yasmeen Vaughan
I wonder if Yasmeen Vaughan and I ever crossed paths. We're both about the same age and build. We're black women from Oakland. She graduated from Mills College and I grew up near there. Judging by her photos we have similar taste in fashion. Maybe we passed each other in a clothing store or at a flea market.
According to the Oakland Tribune, Yasmeen went missing a few weeks before Christmas of last year. Reports from her family claim she lived with untreated mental health problems. Relatives said that was the reason why Yasmeen isolated herself from them. So having no contact with her for a length of time wasn't new. When I first heard this story in January, I became worried for Yasmeen. When Africans Americans go missing, often the media passes us by. The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports that black people make up 40% of suspicious disappearances, but missing white women get the most media coverage. Which is why black cable network TV One created the new series "Find Our Missing."
Yasmeen's mental health problems caused my concerns to grew even more. I thought about Mitrice Richardson, a young black woman from South Los Angeles with bipolar disorder who disappeared a few years ago. She drove to an expensive Malibu restaurant that she couldn't afford and was acting odd. Some in the restaurant described her as behaving like she was on drugs. The staff called the police. Richardson was taken into custody by the Malibu Sheriff Dept., but released late night/early morning by herself. No family members were contacted to pick her up. If you've never been to Malibu, it's mostly beach, windy roads and cliffs. One year later, she was found dead in a deserted Malibu area.
Unfortunately, Yasmeen's story has a similar ending to Mitrice's. In mid-December, a security guard found her alive, clinging to rocks at the Oakland Estuary. Who knows how long she had been in those frigid waters. She died at a hospital a few hours later. The body was recently identified about one week ago. Yasmeen reportedly had no wallet or identification on her. What really pained me reading this story in the Oakland Tribune was a quote from her mother.
"'(Yasmeen) had cut herself off from all her friends and family. Part of the problem (with getting help for mental health issues) is the stigma that people of color have for reaching out for help.' Deborah Vaughan said she had not spoken to her daughter for weeks before she was found."
Another life loss because of mental health stigma. If only she knew good help was out there and having a mental health issue does not make her inferior. I wish she would have known that she could have a mental health issue and still live a quality life. I see testaments of this everyday at my job. Stories like Yasmeen and Mitrice's are another reminder of why what we do at PEERS is critical. Stopping stigma literally saves lives. I don't want Yasmeen Vaughan to have died in vain. Her death fuels my drive to inform the community about mental health. If she was anything like me, I think Yasmeen would want me to do just that.