Boxer Takes on Fight Against Mental Illness Stigma

As a world-class boxer, Mia St. John has won plenty of fights. She has held several world titles in her career.

But she will be the first to tell you that she lost the most important fight of her life: the fight to save her 24-year-old son, Julian, from taking his own life. Then, earlier this year, her ex-husband, actor Kristoff St. John, died unexpectedly from heart disease.

But Mia St. John has continued fighting. This time, to help other people battling mental illness.

Do your research on treatment options 

When Julian St. John was found dead, he was in a treatment center. Mia St. John describes her son as a brilliant artist and a beautiful child with schizophrenia and a meth addiction.

"You certainly don’t expect it," she said.

"You would think that he was a normal child, except that he was very eccentric, very reclusive, but he fell into addiction to self-medicate," she continued. "And that’s what a lot of people do when they suffer from mental illness."

The facility the St. Johns brought Julian St. John to was contracted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. They expected transparency from the facility, but they weren’t told that the facility had violated standards and that people had died there until after Julian St. John was no longer alive.

"Do your due diligence when you’re investigating a facility, whether that be drug rehab or a mental health facility," she said. "Really do your research and educate yourself."

Build a society of love and tolerance

Mia St. John says her husband, who had his own battle with bipolar disorder, never recovered from the guilt he felt after their son’s death. Mia St. John said the facility had not watched Julian St. John closely enough and falsified their records — which shesays was "an added blow."

She says reform is needed in the mental health system and argues for "a society of love and tolerance" for the mentally ill, particularly for those among the Los Angeles homeless who have a mental illness. She sees them not as random strangers, but children, mothers and fathers. To allow them to suffer without providing them with care, she believes, is inhumane.

"This is now my fight," she said. "It is the most important fight of my life."

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