On the surface, Latrece Bell appeared to have it all. She was beautiful, extremely accomplished, full of life, and had friends and family that adored her.
But below the surface, those who loved her knew she battled with a devastating mental illness that ultimately triggered her to take her life.
In the wake of their loss, the group of friends joined forces to form “Live Beautiful Now,” a nonprofit organization in honor of Latrece to help remove the stigma of mental illness and bring greater awareness to and support for individuals struggling with mental illness.
Empower Magazine spoke with Jheri Bashen, clinical director for the Live Beautiful Now organization, to share the inspiration and future goals she, LaTarsha Rosemon-Mims and co-founders, Lora Rosemon and Carmen Martinez are working towards to change the perception of mental illness in their quest to increase awareness of the disease and save lives.
Describe your motivation for joining forces with your friends to launch “Live Beautiful Now.”
My response was automatic, when her sister (Lora Rosemon) asked me to be a part of the organization that she and Carmen decided to form. I’d been working the field for several years, and wanted to provide any support I could toward Live Beautiful Now. There needed to be something or someone willing to speak directly to the community about mental illness and I was happy they asked me to be a part of it. Live Beautiful Now also serves as a tribute to Latrece and holds her memory.
What does the face of bipolar disorder look like (symptoms) and what services does “Live Beautiful Now” provide that can help?
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are different for every individual. General symptoms include drastic changes in mood that last for an extended period of time. Some people may experience extreme sadness, loss of appetite, loss of motivation (depression) or become irritable, extremely active, and unable to sleep (mania). Currently Live Beautiful Now serves as a voice for mental illness. We provide education to the community about available resources for treatment.
How many people have you been able to assist or refer for services since your friend’s death?
Since starting the organization, we have spoken to approximately 50 people directly. Most people just want to talk to us about what they are going through. Often, after we tell the story of Latrece, people come to us and thank us for speaking about the diagnosis so they do not feel so alone. In the future, we hope to assist more people directly. I believe there would be more people, but the stigma associated with mental illness is one of the many barriers that keep people from reaching out.
What is the greatest challenge your nonprofit has faced in bringing bipolar disorder out of the shadows?
Getting people to talk about it. Mental Illness is very taboo and when you have to talk about suicide that is an even bigger challenge. Often people want to “push it under the rug”. However, since we have been speaking out and sharing Latrece’s story, many individuals and organizations have been stepping up to partner with us. Someone has to address the “elephant in the room”, and we signed up to do it.
An additional challenge has been among all of us. Each time we have an event or call , we have to re-live the grief. Overall, it has been therapeutic for her sister, Lora, and best friend, Carmen, but it is still a reminder that she is really gone.
How do you hope to change the perceptions people hold of the condition so that more can seek help?
We hope to educate people on treatment options and let them know that there is help. A lot of people feel like there is no hope, but there is. We have noticed that a lot of people just “don’t know” what to do or what their options are.
Do you have a success story of a particular client that you would like to share?
Currently, we do not see clients individually, however I believe our successes can be measured by the individuals that come to us and share their stories. They appear to have a sigh of relief. We have run through many boxes of tissues at some of the events we attend. People come to us and just say “thank you” for our efforts to speak out about bipolar disorder. I think showing people there is hope has been our greatest success. So far we have approximately 300 people that have signed up for our e-mail list to stay informed about what our organization is doing.
Where would you like to see the nonprofit in the next five years?
In the next 5 years we hope to have a facility that provides counseling services to individuals and families. In addition, we hope to have made an impact on the topic of mental illness as a whole, similar to the movement formed by Susan G. Komen for breast cancer. Upon review of the media, supreme court cases, and the Affordable Care Act, I think the next big Civil Rights movement will be centered around mental illness. Live Beautiful Now hopes to be an advocate and become more involved in politics. Stereotypes are only one of the many barriers to treatment, there also are many laws and regulations that need to be changed.
What events or initiatives are on the horizon?
We have four fundraisers a year. Our next fundraiser is on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 6 – 9 p.m. at the Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway, Ste. 455 in Houston. Tickets are $20, pre-sale and $40 for VIP (reserved seating close to stage). For more information, call 713-333-8800. We also will participate in community events about mental illness for NAMI and the National Suicide Prevention Walk. In the future we plan to center our Walk around Bipolar Disorder.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ‘Live Beautiful Now’?
There are four members: Lora Rosemon (Latrece’s sister), Carmen Martinez (Latrece’s best friend), Latarsha Rosemon-Mims and myself.
Our signature color is purple, and we wear it at every event. Initially, purple was chosen because it was Latrece’s favorite color. Later, we learned that it means the loss of a friend or family member by suicide.
To donate or volunteer with Live Beautiful Now, visit www.livebeautifulnow.org or call 1-866-887-0669, ext 3.