Trace Riff and the Sad Reality of Mental Illness

Trace Riff

The story of Trace Riff is making the news because he was once an international male model who has done something terrible. Riff kicked a black toddler to the ground while screaming racist remarks and bragging about being a white supremacist. It all makes for fantastic clickbait headlines, something the mental illness and drug addiction that destroyed Riff’s life didn’t engender. That’s a shame. Before this incident I’m almost certain you, like me, never heard of Riff.

Riff was recruited by talent scouts at an early age because of his good looks. His fashion career got kicked off back in 2005 with a photo in Harper’s Bazaar with Gisele Bundchen. He spent the next few years traveling the world as a fashion model. Eventually that career came to an end, likely because he was mentally ill and couldn’t perform his duties, and he returned to his home in Wichita, KS. There his problems escalated until he was homeless and completely delusional.

The reality of this is that his family tried to help him many times. In reading the article we hear from his grandmother and his brother who tell stories of trying to aid him. They took Riff in. They sent Riff to drug treatment facilities. They attempted medical interventions. Riff didn’t want help and doesn’t want help. His grandmother says he’s completely delusional and I have no reason to doubt her assessment. He has been homeless for a number of years and seems to prefer it that way. He is well-known to the local police and his grandmother suspects it will be in an altercation with them that Riff will eventually be killed.

All this is terrible but it is so commonplace it didn’t amount to so much as a headline outside of a few local papers before he went on his racist rant. Now it’s national news. Mental illness is not easy to treat, particularly when the person so affected doesn’t want treatment. I’ve written about this subject before but this case is even more egregious. It’s entirely possible Riff will eventually become a violent threat and yet, despite the best efforts his family, not much is going to be done about it.

I’ll reiterate what I spoke about in that other article for a moment before going on. If a person is mentally ill and refuses treatment the solutions are not always easy. We don’t want to make it simple for the government to lock up just anyone who displays a few symptoms.

That being said, we really aren’t trying very hard. The amount of money it takes to help a person like Riff is considerable and it is likely he will never be able to integrate into society in a normal way. It’s an enormous and ongoing expense to pay people to treat Riff and to keep him housed, fed, and clothed. That money would largely come from tax dollars. It’s easier to let him live out his miserable, drug-addicted, homeless life away from our vision and hope he doesn’t turn overtly violent. It’s cheaper. That’s sad but true.

While I’m certain we can’t solve the problems of all mentally distressed people in this country, I think we can do better.

Tom Liberman

9 thoughts on “Trace Riff and the Sad Reality of Mental Illness

    • You’re quite welcome, Jeremy. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. For my readers, Jeremy is Trace’s brother.

  1. For the readers, Trace Riff’s mental illness has a name, it’s name is Huntington’s Disease. It’s a rare genetic uncurable hereditary disease. Ugly is what it is! I am Trace’s sister.

    • I’m so terribly sorry. My X-husband (then boyfriend) used to donate his auction talents to raise money for this disease several yrs until the charity stopped the event. Sad to see it go. Any funds donated for this is MUCH needed. Terribly sorry this is happening to him & all the loved ones effected. I wish EVERYONE involved in this sad incident a peaceful recovery.

    • I am so sorry. I knew Trace years ago. He was really good to me. I’m really sorry to hear this. But please keep this in mind. Nobody, and I mean nobody is beyond help and changing. He still has a chance. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

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  3. I had a very brief fling with him many years back when he was still doing okay. This is really sad to hear. I had no idea he had gone this far. And the racist tirade and kicking a child?? I can’t imagine him doing that, but meth is a hell of a drug.

  4. This was the only article/opinion piece I’ve read that didn’t see past the facts that he’s a human, he is mentally I’ll, and that my family has tried to help. It’s super frustrating to see all these articles and all these awful comments calling him scum And how he should rot. I’m traces cousin. I’m mixed myself and he loved me he never treated me poor or with racism nor my mother. I think I can speak for our family in that we miss trace and wish we could help him. I’m so sorry to the mother and her son. I definitely didn’t want to disregard their feelings or what happened, I’m just appreciative to see someone talk about him as a real person.
    Thank you for this.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Tyra. I wish I could do more to help people in his situation than write an article.


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