Memphians promote better understanding of mental illness

Sherri Sims, the Memphis woman accused of killing her four-year-old daughter, is due to be arraigned in court Thursday morning. Sims is charged with murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse.  Police say her daughter, Keonnia Pratcher, was beaten and drowned Monday morning.

According to relatives, Sims has a long history of battles with mental illness.  Sims' father claims he pleaded to have her re-admitted to a psychiatric hospital just one day before his daughter died.

Memphian Brad Cobb can talk a lot about mental illness, and how it has affected his 19-year-old daughter Brandi, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  Cobb remembers a lot of times when family members felt they had to watch Brandi around the clock.

"It's quite consuming," he said. "You're trying to prevent them from being a harm to themselves or others."

Cobb said the challenges of his daughter's condition led him to begin working as the executive director of Memphis' National Alliance on Mental Illness.  The agency puts out brochures, holds workshops and other functions, designed to help families learn how to cope with mental illness, and overcome its stigma.

"We don't come together with mental illness, because we are so busy hiding," said Novella Smith Arnold. "We can't hide anymore. This is hitting us right in the teeth."

In her role as a church chaplain, Arnold works with families that need assistance.

"It's horrendous," she said. "The mental health problem in this city is more than the city can handle."

Arnold said it was time for the community come together, and work to provide more support for families struggling with mental illness.

Cobb agreed, saying although treatment has helped his daughter's condition, his agency gets hundreds of calls a month from family members who need help.

Both Arnold and Cobb think more education, more legislation, and more funding for treatment of mentally ill patients is the best way to help families, and remove the stigma associated with a complicated condition.