Opening Up About Depression – Mental Illness Awareness Week

DepressionMillions of people suffer from mental illness and I am one of them. Millions more are affected because a friend or loved one suffers from a disease that may be difficult to diagnose, and even harder to endure. This October 7-13th, under the theme of Cure the Stigma, the National Alliance on Mental Illness urges everyone to get involved because whether we are willing to admit it or not everyone is involved.

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In the US alone, one out of five adults and children will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Members of my extended family on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled with mental disorders. In addition to genetic factors, chronic illness, death of loved ones, natural disasters and traumatic stress, any extenuating circumstance can tip the fragile brain chemistry.

Mental IllnessThough anxiety and depression may be the most common disorders, there are dozens of others from personality disorders, PSTD, dissociative disorders, psychosis and schizophrenia to name just a few.

My maternal great grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, lost his 8-year-old daughter, when she died from an illness 2 weeks after arriving on Ellis Island. Three months later, his wife died giving birth to my grandmother. Living in a new country with no support system, he sank into a depression and never recovered.

Though perhaps part of my genetic make up, my depression is more likely a result of living with a chronic illness. Clinical depression will be triggered in an estimated one third of people with serious medical conditions especially in those with a biological vulnerability to a mood disorder.

Depression becomes a common component of diabetes, heart disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, Parkinson, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and others illnesses where reoccurring symptoms wreak havoc with one’s life. Some illnesses like Lyme neuroborreliosis, MS and other inflammatory diseases attack brain tissue. With no cure in sight, the end result can be a spiral of despair.

Ever the athlete, I blamed myself. I thought that I should be mentally tougher and physically stronger to overcome the pain, illness and depression, but self-blame serves no purpose.

The toxic stigma associated with mental illness causes shame and fear. Many people continue to suffer in silence preventing them from seeking help.Mental Illness

Eventually through research, I finally found a doctor who could treat my medical condition, which greatly improved my mental state. I sought solace on-line in the words of strangers, who were coping with the same nightmare disease.

Even though chronic illness has no quick fix, knowledge can be empowering. The more I understand my disease, the better I was able to accept and learn to live within the limitations it puts on my life.

Society scorns vulnerability, so we hide our weaknesses and suffer in silence.

Many illnesses involve stigma and shame, especially mental illness. Don’t buy into it. The only people who truly know what you are going through are those people who suffer from or live with a loved one who is suffering from a mental disorder.

Pain, suffering, and a sense of hopeless zaps our energy, so take baby steps to bring you peace. If you are the caretaker give yourself a break. If you are the patient take a time-out. Walk in the woods, work in your garden, read a good book, watch a funny movie, stretch your limbs.

So many times I have felt like I cannot go on. When I can bear it no longer, I cry. Then I pick myself up off the floor and go back to battle. On my worst days, I don’t look too far ahead. I tell myself I only have to make it through the next few moments. Then minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, I survive.Mental Illness

You will too because you still have so much to offer your family, your friends, your community!

Reach out. Speak up. Help Cure Stigma.

You are not alone.

Posted in education, family, health.


  1. Thank you for speaking up on this once taboo subject and bringing it into the light. As you write, it is far more common than we can imagine. And thank you for sharing your personal struggles. My mother also suffered from depression brought on from being in chronic pain. It was so inspiring for me to watch her go minute to minute, hour to hour, and day by day despite the pain and depression she experienced. You are also an inspiration. Love you Girl!

    • Yes, as you know from your mom’s experience chronic pain takes its toll on mental health. The daily battle can be demoralizing. That is why I am so grateful for our everlasting friendship. You always lift me up with your faith, energy and optimism. Your joie de vive is inspiring.

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal story so openly, Pat. Depression is far more common than most people realize. I can relate to the depression of chronic illness. As you say, there’s no around it and one has to power through one day , one moment at a time. Breaking the silence and shame surrounding it is a step toward healing. Thanks for highlighting this important message. You continue to inspire!

    • Kathy, I know that you power through each day in the face of great physical obstacles too. I look to you to lead the way and have often turned to your words for comfort. May we continue to draw strength from one another as we go forward to meet our challenges.

    • Thanks Sandy, especially for all you do as a mental health counselor to support people in need. May you continue to find the energy and strength to work in such a challenging mental health field where the need for qualified professionals has never been greater.

    • Thanks Jennifer. I was reticent about telling my story, but only by sharing our struggles can we know that we are not alone and help break the sigma and begin to heal as a society.

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  4. Pat, you are such a good person to share your story. It will reach and touch people in ways you can’t imagine. Because one of the symptoms of depression is feeling alone, it’s especially important for people to be reminded that they are not alone.

    • Thanks for commenting and thanks also for reposting on FB. As a “fellow” writer, you especially know the power of words and it is through our connection that we are empowered. I appreciate so much that you have stayed in touch.

  5. Well said Pat. There is a great deal of social stigma with mental illness. We need to support one another much more. Suicide amongst young people is the highest cause of death in Australia. There is a big push in education to change this and talk about mental health in a number of subjects. Baby steps. But excellent ones even so ????

    • Thanks Rach. You are right and education is one way to help. Suicide rates among youth are rising, not only in Australia. The WHO estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story Pat. I appreciated that you shared so many types of depression, as I actually have 3 Diagnoses. Add to that, In the last 10 years, I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness of which there is currently no cure. This week has been a particularly difficult one for me. It was just a few weeks into October that I had to give up my career that I loved at the age of 30! On Monday, the 8th, I turned 60. I see many of friends retiring when I thought I would be, and doing the things I always felt I would be doing! Though this week has been difficult, it is important that people realize that while there will be low periods, All is not lost! I am a Survivor! I survived by God’s Grace attempts on taking my own life. I also turned everything inward and all negative happenings as my fault. I dealt with them through self harm! However, the negative behaviors are not even considered anymore and I have only been in the hospital for my mental illness 2 times in the last 18 & 1/2yrs. Those were simply for medication adjustments. When Mental Illness struck me, there was really very little support. I felt I had to hide it mostly do to embarrassment! Mental health issues have come a ways since my initial diagnosis, but it desperately needs to make so much more progress!! Thank you Pat for using your voice to help People Realize The Importance Of Stopping The Stigma!!

    • Nancy I am so sorry for all the health issues you have had to endure. You continue to battle in spite of setbacks and remain a true golden warrior. Thank you for sharing your story. Hopefully the more openly we can address the issues of mental health, the better we will be able as a society to help those that suffer from illnesses that have been hidden, stigmatized and ignored. May you continue to grow stronger each day in mind, spirit and body. As you mentioned even though we have moved forward in the past 20 years, we still need to progress, so keep on sharing and caring.

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