The Heartbreaking Story of Josh Marks, Chicago’s MasterChef

By Jamilah King Jun 25, 2014

Josh Marks rose to fame on the Food Network reality TV show "MasterChef," but his downfall, as described by Bryan Smith at Chicago Magazine, is familiar to the many people who struggle with mental illness in America. Marks battled against bipolar disorder and was diagnozed with schizophrenia before he took his own life last summer. 

The entire profile is worth a read, but what stands out is the tremendous effort that Marks’ mother, Paulette Mitchell, put into helping her son cope with his illness. Despite the widely held idea that African-Americans are less likely to seek treatment for mental illnesses, there’s evidence that shows how little support is available when they do. I’ve excerpted the part below at length because it spells out just what so many black families are up against when dealing with mental illness and the bureaucracy of America’s broken healthcare system. 

[Mitchell’s] first step was to find out what they were dealing with. "I started Googling it," Mitchell says. "I bought a book for myself, and I bought a book for Joshua." Everything she read resonated. People with bipolar disorder, for example, experience dramatic swings in mood and activity levels. They can be bursting with ideas and energy one day and nearly paralyzed by depressive thoughts the next. That was Marks lately. His mother also researched psychosis. The condition, she learned, included a number of symptoms–hearing voices, having hallucinations, experiencing paranoid delusions.

The information was helpful, but it led to the far bigger and thornier questions of how and where to get Marks help–and how to afford it. She set off on what would prove to be a confusing and frustrating search for treatment to address the complex set of long-term psychiatric issues that come with such a diagnosis.

Making matters worse was the fact that funding for mental health services had been slashed dramatically. From 2009 to 2012, Illinois cut $187 million, or 32 percent, from its mental health budget. Only three states–South Carolina, Alabama, and Alaska–axed a larger percentage, says the advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Illinois did restore $32 million of those cuts in 2013, blaming an administrative error.) According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Illinois’s per capita spending ranked 36th nationally as of 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available). In Chicago, meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel outraged the city’s mental health advocacy community in 2012 when he abruptly closed fully half of the city’s outpatient facilities.

Read the rest over at Chicago Magazine