August 20, 2007 is a day Nikki Payne will never forget. Eleven years ago, a SWAT team swarmed into Payne’s five-bedroom home in South Fulton.
What began as a normal day, ended with a hostage situation and a table being taken from the house that had a covered body on it.
When the details settled, Payne’s two-year-old daughter Chasmin Payne daughter had pronounced dead at the scene. Her seven-year-old son Kevin Bridges, from a previous relationship, later died at the hospital.
The shooter, her husband Chad Payne, killed himself.
Payne lost her family to a murder-suicide as a result of a domestic violence dispute. Now, it’s been a part of her mission to help others.
Familicide is a term used to describe the event in which a parent or stepparent kills a current or ex-partner and one or more of the couple’s children and/or children from a previous relationship.
According to the 12th annual Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report, 17 familicides have occurred between 2010-2015.
In further research conducted by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and Georgia Coalition against domestic violence, contributing factors and common characteristics in familicides suggests perpetrators are dealing with mental illness, depression, male entitlement, intense shame and humiliation, and an over-enmeshment in the lives of their partners and children.
Payne never knew that her husband suffered from a mental illness nor did she know that there was a family history of it.
“He would talk to himself and I would just brush it off like he was having a bad day,” Payne said. “I never knew that I needed to help him because growing up I never knew about mental illnesses.”
Once it was revealed that her husband could have suffered from bipolar disorder, Payne said she began to put the pieces together and realized that maybe some of her family members were mentally ill as well.
No one talked about mental illness, so she didn’t know how to recognize the signs until she lost her family.
In many black families, like Payne’s, people chose not to talk about mental health and other issues that could help them understand each other while mending broken cycles.
Payne, who had just lost her family, also had to plan a funeral for them all. She was broken and said she lost her mind. As a result, she was institutionalized and then, later, became addicted to prescription meds.
“When everything happened, I was a functioning zombie,” Payne penned in an op-ed for Ebony Magazine. “The God most would run to, I found myself running away from. I turned my back on my family and friends who tried to comfort me because people didn’t know what to say.”
She experienced different stages of grieving within an hour and she didn’t know how to cope. Eventually she realized that would not help her move forward in life. Payne need to get help.
While trying to get her life back on track she found ways to numb the pain. Covering Payne’s arms are beautifully rendered tattoos with lifelike portraits of her children’s faces and half sleeves of Payne’s other interests.
Each year, on her children’s birthdays or the anniversary of their tragic end, she’d get another tattoo. She’d gotten the tattoos in her children’s memory, or so she thought.
Payne remembers her sister asking if she knew what “cutting” was. Her sister suggested to her that when she would get tattoos or piercings her children’s birthdays, that it was her way of “cutting.”
Though it was tough, Payne admitted that she felt as if harming herself that way would ease the guilt she felt for living on, but this was how she was grieving.
A few years later, Payne found her mother dead and this was a wake up call for her to get her life together.
“My turning point was on Jan. 8, 2011, when I went to my mother’s home and found her dead in the bed with my son’s Spider-Man action figure and my daughter’s Dora doll,” she said. “I had spoken to her the day before, and she was telling me how much she missed her grandchildren, and her heart was hurting from the loss.
“They said she died of natural causes, but she grieved so much, I thought it killed her,” Payne added. She said that she didn’t want her siblings to find her somewhere dead so she decided to make a change.
“I was not going to allow my husband to kill me from the grave,” Payne said about how she viewed her life at that time and what motivated her to change. “My mother died on a Friday, and I went to church on Sunday.
“It was at that point that I began going out and venturing into the world,” she continued. “I began to travel, socialize and mend relationships with family and friends. I started sharing my story with anyone who would listen. “
After getting the help she needed through seeing a therapist, Payne said she continues to be driven by sharing her story and raising awareness for mental health.
“Most people want to deal with it themselves and keep it inside rather than asking for help,” Payne said.
Payne has shared her story in front of thousands of people and says that church people have treated her the worst. Payne said she has met resistance in the church when she has tried to talk to others about her ordeal and how she has moved forward in her life.
When dealing with situations like mental illness or domestic violence, the dynamic between church and black folks has proven to be more harmful than helpful, Payne said. “People are turned away and seek help from other places,” she said.
Payne said she feels as if it’s still a stigma to talk about mental health because of the “what goes on in my house, stays in my house,” an often unwritten rule among black families.
Therapy is not a way that black families encourage each other to seek help. Instead, it is always recommended that those suffering should pray about it.
Audralina Sherman, a Christian with bipolar and substance use disorder, told the Washington Informer that while the church is one component of the “healing” process, that process, must be tailor-made for the individual.
Seeing a psychologist or therapist can be beneficial on the road to recovery, Sherman added. There are options for receiving help from a mental health professional on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
“We do a disservice to the body of Christ when we choose to be led by the stigma associated with mental health rather than our Christian call to care for those who are hurting,” said Marissa Akery, the director of College and Young Adult Ministries for Big Bethel A.M.E. Chuch in downtown Atlanta. “It is irresponsible to suggest that clinical depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses can be prayed away and it is even more dishonoring to ignore the issue altogether.”
In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness month and this was created back in 2008.
The National Association of Mental Illnesses (NAMI) states Campbell was a champion for mental health education and support among individuals of diverse communities.
A leading African American author, she co-founded NAMI Urban Los Angeles and posthumously received NAMI’s 2003 Outstanding Media Award for Literature. She died in 2006 before this became a reality.
Herself an author, business owner and a motivational speaker, Payne is working to break the stigma that plagues our communities while also taking care to heal herself.
She said that every day, she works towards living a better life and has planned a walk, “Talk a Stand, Stop the Hurt Walk,” dedicated in the honor of her children.
“I truly believe my life’s purpose is to inspire others who face a dversity,” Payne said.