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De'Aire Gray's death highlights disparities in mental health treatment, experts say

DeAire illustration.png
Posted at 12:40 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 12:58:47-04

INDIANAPOLIS — De’Aire Gray’s years-long battle with schizophrenia before a Speedway officer shot and killed him in February illustrates just how difficult it can be for Black Hoosiers to find help for loved ones with a mental illness.

Gray’s family struggled for years to get him help for his mental illness, his mother said. He resisted treatment and refused medicine, she said.

“It was a roller coaster ride these last five years,” Tanya Atkins said. “I myself learned more about the diagnosis and more about the illness, so it was easier for me to deal with because I was determined to deal with it.”

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De'Aire Gray

Minority Hoosiers have significant problems finding doctors and affording to pay for mental health treatment, said Calvin Roberson, the vice president of planning and program development for the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.

“For many minorities who face depression, anxiety, they will have to come out of pocket,” Roberson said. “Unfortunately, it's not always a priority.”

A 2016 policy brief published by Indiana University found disparities in behavioral health problems among minority populations in Indiana. The brief's authors found that minority and low-income Hoosiers suffered higher rates of depression, were more likely to smoke, less likely to have health insurance and less likely to afford a visit to the doctor.

Nationally, another 2016 study found that even though more Americans sought treatment for mental health issues after the Affordable Care Act was passed, Blacks and other ethnic minorities “continued to receive treatment at substantially lower rates than whites.”

“If you look at the state of Indiana, we're very low on mental health, psychiatric and high-end psychological services in comparison to other states,” Roberson said. “There is just a need to upgrade our mental health system here in Indiana overall.”

In Gray’s case, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2015, Atkins said. He would talk to himself and hear voices. He was convinced people were trying to hurt him, and believed that even his mother had turned on him.

Atkins said his family tried to get him help but had little success. In 2015, she said a judge ordered Gray to undergo mental health treatment for three months under a civil commitment.

But when Gray got out of the hospital, Atkins said he stopped taking medicine. The voices came back.

“I was determined to deal with it,” Atkins said. “I didn’t want my son to be like the rest of the mentally ill and be out on the streets living, so I made sure I kept him close.”

Tanya Atkins
Tanya Atkins, mother of De'Aire Gray who was shot by Speedway police on Feb. 12 and died from his injuries.

Gray had recently moved into his mother’s apartment when Speedway police were investigating reports of a homeless man living in a car and defecating in a parking lot on Feb. 12 in the 5900 block of West 25th Street.

Officers were investigating Gray’s car, which was loaded with his belongings, when Gray climbed inside the vehicle.

Officers tried to speak to Gray, but he ran. Speedway police say he pulled a weapon and an officer shot him. Gray died on Feb. 21.

Gray wasn’t homeless. Atkins said the car was parked about 15 feet from their front door.

It’s unclear if officers at the scene knew Gray had a mental illness. Special Prosecutor Chris Gaal and Indiana State Police detectives are investigating.

Ronald Williams, the chief clinical officer at Edgewater Health in Lake County, said Gray’s death highlights inequities Black Hoosiers face in both policing and access to mental health care.

“It's time to do something a little bit different,” Williams said. “The disregard for human life has become disgraceful and even more so when you talk about the disparities between African Americans and white individuals.”

Gray's death, Williams said, illustrates a frustration over a systematic unfairness many Black people experience.

“We're all the same. You can't approach me and have a different set of standards and rules than you do my white counterpart,” Williams said.

“When we're walking in the same path, and doing the same things, the consequences should be the same. You shouldn't be talked to, and allowed to go home, and I get shot and killed for the same issue, non-violent issue or violent issue. It shouldn't happen.”

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.

DE'AIRE GRAY COVERAGE | Veteran Speedway officer fatally shot man during foot chase, officials say | Family of man killed by Speedway police wants body camera video released | Special prosecutor: State Police investigating Speedway officer who fatally shot man with schizophrenia | The death of De’Aire Gray: How one man slipped through the cracks of the mental health system