Heroes for Health: Jennifer Bias

This spotlight series is designed to profile members of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. Over the coming months, the series will feature individual Collaborative members, each of whom is integral to the group’s efforts to forge stronger connections and establish new approaches to strengthen the social and emotional development of our children.

This series is an opportunity to highlight and recognize the diverse individuals, services and resources available to the Racine community.

Who: Jennifer Bias, Deputy Director of the Trial Division and Affirmative Action Officer for the Office of the Wisconsin State Public Defender

Website: www.wisspd.org

Email: biasj@opd.wi.gov

Phone: 262-638-7531

Twitter: @WISPDTraining

About SPD: The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office (SPD) is an independent, executive-branch state agency that provides legal representation for individuals who meet statutory financial eligibility criteria and are accused of a crime against the state or a defendant in certain civil matters. The mission of SPD is to promote justice throughout Wisconsin by providing high-quality legal services, protecting individual rights, and advocating as a criminal justice partner for effective defender services and a fair and rational criminal justice system.

Words from Jennifer, a Hero for Health:

My first exposure to mental health issues and its impact on the community came early on in my career as a lawyer. When I started in the juvenile courts, I was immediately struck by the overwhelming amount of children who suffered from behavior problems. After transitioning to the adult system, former juveniles seemed to transition with me. These same kids who were once in the juvenile system continued to bump up against the justice system as adults. What happened to the juveniles I worked with in court was a familiar experience for me.

I never fully understood the behaviors of mental illness until my brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My family was at a loss to understand his bizarre behavior and reoccurring contact with the justice system.

Denial, ignorance, and even shame can color our perception of what mental health issues are. Some families learn to adapt, tolerate and deal with the behaviors associated with it. Some may ignore the signs. And some may just be uninformed about what to do. The latter was my family’s experience.

It wasn’t until I understood my brother’s diagnosis and truly witnessed his experience with his mental illness that I began to comprehend the issue more fully. I saw first-hand how mental health challenges can impact anyone regardless of his or her background.

My brother had a hard time talking to another person about what he was feeling because it was perceived as something that “black men don’t do.” Stigma and lack of understanding is what’s holding our children back and keeping them from receiving the treatment they need. Part of my mission is to bring my personal perspective to this issue and help create awareness around mental illness being apart of the lives of many.

As a community, we need to commit to learning about mental health and the ways we can identify issues earlier, before we have to address them in the courts.

If we don’t treat a child with mental health challenges and instead allow the issue to intensify into adulthood, we’re putting our families and entire community in jeopardy.

See all Heroes