By Noe Gutierrez
Making headlines on “CBS This Morning” and “Entertainment Tonight” about the highly publicized and controversial suicide of their beloved son Julian, actor Kristoff St. John (“The Young and the Restless”) and Palm Spring’s based world champion boxer Mia St. John are continuing their crusade to raise suicide and mental health awareness.
According to recent data provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention approximately 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year. In Riverside County alone, there were 244 suicides in 2015 as reported by our Coroner’s Office.
On November 23, 2014, Mia St. John lost her 24 year old son Julian to suicide at La Casa Mental Health in Long Beach. It was determined that Julian had died from asphyxiation when he put a plastic bag over his head. St. John is well known for her championship boxing career and earned the name “The Knockout”. She now faces the biggest fight of her life, the loss of her son and a battle for those coping with mental health issues.
Coachella Valley Weekly spoke with St. John as she prepared for a wrongful death lawsuit hearing scheduled for 11/28/16 in Los Angeles County.
CVW: What would you like to see be the outcome of your lawsuit?
Mia St. John: “What I want is justice. Not just for my son. My son is gone. He’s still here with me. His life here on this earth is no longer as it was. I want justice for the patients that remain in that facility as well as the people who have lost their lives prior to my son. I realize that we’re suing for money. Unfortunately, that is the only way to get these corporations to pay attention, when they are hit with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. What I want is reform. I want La Casa Mental Health Long Beach (owned by Telecare) to reform all of their facilities. Not just Long Beach but nationwide. I want the mental health department to be transparent when they’re sending people to these facilities. They must alert families of all the countless violations and death that these facilities have on their record. Why aren’t we allowed to know that? Nobody told me about all the violations that La Casa had. No one told me about the death that had occurred prior shortly before my son entered. The same thing occurred, negligence. They failed to watch the patients and the tragedy is they lose their life. Toxicology reports showed that my son wasn’t taking his vital antipsychotic meds which would have prevented him from hearing voices, which would have prevented him from committing suicide. Also, surveillance cameras show that no one was watching my son. It shows him walking into his room, shutting the door and a fellow patient follows him in and at no point does staff check on him despite the mandatory checks at every 15 minutes. All the while they are marking off that they are watching him. That’s a crime. That’s falsifying records. Even up to almost four hours after he had been taken to the coroner. That is fraud. So I want them to be held accountable. Also, my son used a plastic bag to take his life. Two and a half weeks prior he used the same item to attempt suicide. I went ballistic! Why are there plastic bags in a high risk psychiatric unit? I demanded that all plastic bags be taken out of this facility. They said they would, but my son completed suicide.”
CVW: What message would you like to send to young people regarding mental illness?
St.John: “Julian had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17 and had become suicidal while off his medication and on a powerful substance, methamphetamine. The staff upgraded him to a 14-day hold, and then lengthened it again for an indefinite period, to give him adequate time to recover from methamphetamine use. I never looked at my son as ill. My son was a very gifted artist. You can see his work at theartofjulian.com. We have a program in the Coachella Valley. We have a lot of people who reside here with mental health issues. I’m not going to say illness because they are all very gifted. A lot of them are young adults. They suffer from certain disorders; schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety, depressive disorders and addiction. They also have a gift. They’re very compassionate, empathetic, artistic, and articulate, with severe mood swings and hear voices. If you met them you’d realize they are intelligent and so enlightened that at the same time they have something that can be torturous at times. That can lead them to attempt suicide. All of my students have attempted suicide. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I doubt there’s anyone out there who can say they’ve never been depressed or have had anxiety. We’ve all suffered from time to time in our lives. None of us should ever be ashamed to say that.”
CVW: Describe your loss and the strengths you have found in coping.
St. John: “Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to any human being. There is nothing worse. What was taken from me is forever in this life. I cannot fully recover. The whole family has been injured and will never fully recover. But what can we do? What I do to get through my day is working with these young adults and helping them get through their life. We couldn’t save my son’s life. They tell me how much we’ve helped them. It brings me joy. I tell them, you’re helping me more than I’m helping you. That’s what gets me out of bed are these kids. In every single one of them I see my son. I loved my son for the person that he was, the artist that he was and the humanitarian that he was. All of this is because of him. He loved the homeless. He used to get mad at me because I would just pass them some money and keep walking and I wouldn’t talk to them. Now I will talk, sit and cry with them. There’s nothing so crucial in my day that I cannot give up some time for them, even if we’re busy. Anyone can give up 60 seconds to say ‘Hi, do you need anything? Are you OK?’ That’s all because of my son, because that’s what he did.”
CVW: Tell us about Julian’s art studio.
St. John: “Stone Art Studio is based in Palm Springs and we cater to Riverside University Health System Behavioral Health consumers from Indio. Several therapists attend our classes and provide support. We recently showcased art from Julian and other consumers in September for National Suicide Prevention Month. Julian was a gifted artist, writer, and musician. His art had been displayed in several galleries, including self-portraits of a beautiful, but tormented soul. We have transformed his art studio into a center for those who, like him, express themselves through art, because words aren’t sufficient. His art lives on to inspire children and young adults that suffer from addiction and mental illness. We accept anyone and everyone; the homeless, the mentally ill to the addict that still suffers. I knew this is what Julian would have wanted.”
CVW: What can the public do to help?
St. John: “I would love for people in the Coachella valley to support us. We always need volunteers. With any foundation it’s very difficult. I’m so grateful to the behavioral health staff from Indio and the therapists who come in. They’re so involved with these kids. There remains a lack of help. We don’t turn away anyone. The PATH, a safe haven drop-in and permanent housing program that seeks to engage the chronic homeless with mental health disorders, is next door and we’ve helped people get connected. You can also go to our petition at change.org. We want change and reform. After a certain amount of violations, something has to be done.”
St. John will be speaking at the National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association conference in Galveston, Texas on 10/18/16 on the need for better mental health care.
St. John is also the founder of the El Saber Es Poder/Knowledge is Power Foundation. An organization developed to empower our youth by providing educational material, equipment and development of Health & Wellness programs.