Shining a Light for Depression: An Invitation to Plant Hope

Penny_Tate_Pinning_Rick_Springfield

Many of us recognize the unfortunate stigma that remains in society when it comes to openly discussing our own or our loved ones depression and/or mental health.  Yet, as Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W and Director of Mental Health at SAMHSA shares on his recent blog, less than 1/3 of those with mental health challenges receive treatment.  This must change.

Many of the images we are bombarded with in the media depict colorless and isolating scenes of those with depression, full of silent expressions of shame, hopelessness, and grief.  While this may be a key symptom of someone in the middle of a major depressive episode, the fact remains that depression is treatable and many find this experience their greatest gift.  All that is needed is for them to make it through the pain and find their way to light.

iFredBlogLogoToday on this Mental Health Blog Day, I would like to share my journey out of isolation.  It all started with planting a sunflower.

In 2009, I lost my mom to suicide.  She fell into a clinical depression in 2008 after undergoing some medication changes.  She suffered silently and lived in great fear of anyone finding out.  My dad and I knew of her struggle and did our best with the information we had at the time to help her.  But we also lived in isolation.

She begged for us not to ever share her suffering.  She saw herself as damaged goods and less than others.  As family members, we honored her request for privacy.  We only spoke to her doctors.  No one else in our family knew of her struggle.  She hid it from her siblings, extended family, and dear friends; the people who truly loved and cared for her happiness and well-being.  The stigma of depression had robbed our family of much needed guidance and support.

In my time of healing, I came across iFred’s message to “Shine a Light on Depression”.  When researching the topic, this was something I had never seen.  Seeing the beautiful sunflowers accompanied by the inspirational message that there is hope was very welcoming.  All around the world, sunflowers were being planted to honor the World Health Organization’s most recent statistic of the 350 million who experience depression.  I read about their Field for Hope project and knew I wanted to be a part of it.  I initially donated one dollar to have a sunflower planted in my mom’s honor, and it spiraled from there.

Next, I decided to plant my own garden which inspired Gardens for Hope. The sight of the sunflowers outside my window I knew would help cheer me.  I printed a sign from the website and posted it in my yard that I was “Shining a Light of Hope on Depression.”  What happened next came as a wonderful surprise.  Conversations were started in regards to my sunflower planting with my family and friends…and then neighbors.  People wanted to know about the project and its message.  Having the opportunity to open up the subject in such a positive way connected me to others in a way I never thought possible.  I was amazed at the response I received.  It truly opened the door for sharing experiences.

Penny_Gardens_For_Hope

From my backyard, I saw my own pathway to continue the conversation.  A farm located behind my home grows sunflowers in their field each season.  So I decided to approach the farmer and ask if they would be interested in donating their sunflowers to the cause by displaying a Field for Hope sign.  She immediately agreed and had her own stories to share.  With every visitor to her local farm stand, another community member was reached.

Once the conversations got started, I found it easier to share.  After posting on Facebook and Twitter, I received hundreds of messages.  People thanked me for talking about it.  Many then shared their stories with me.  I began to see that by shining my light on depression, it encouraged others to shine theirs.  I believe as we continue to have the conversation, we will indeed reduce the stigma by creating awareness and knowledge…and that all of us are most definitely not alone.

iFred saw the work I was doing, and asked me to come on their team to help #teachhope to kids dealing with depression and talk to celebrities like Rick Springfield to help end stigma with #famousfaces.  When I learned that research suggests HOPE is teachable, I got on board.  So we are now creating a curriculum that is being tested in schools across the country called Schools for Hope.

For me, it started with planting a sunflower and sharing my story.  Now I am no longer isolated.  My fear has dissipated.  I talk about depression.  I talk about available treatment.  I am the voice for my mom.  I am proud to talk about the wonderful human being she was and I do not define her life by her death.  She was an amazing mother, wife, sister, friend, and the list goes on.  And she had depression.  She lost her life to an illness that we are afraid to talk about.  This needs to change.

Never underestimate the power of your own voice and your own story.  Someone will be listening.  Just begin the conversation and plant your seed.  Shine Your Light for Hope.

A new article written by Penny Tate

#mhblogday #planthope #shinelight #endstigma #teachhope

 

 

The Past, Present, and Future for Depression; A Perspective of Hope from Geneva

 

As I sit here at a crowded Starbucks in sunny Geneva Switzerland, preparing for the meeting tomorrow at the headquarters of the World Health Organization, I marvel at how far we have come in the field of mental health since my father’s suicide over 20 years ago.  In those days, we looked upon suicide as a poor choice a person made and simply did not talk about it.  Today, while we still have a long way to go, we are starting to understand that it is more than a choice; it is a complicated combination of life circumstances, chemical processes of the brain, genetics, and childhood trauma.

Last year I had the privilege of attending the discussion of the ground breaking resolution for the UN to make global mental health a priority throughout the world with a proposed Global Mental Health Action Plan.  On May 27th, 2013 the World Health Assembly adopted the “Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020“, putting the world on notice that mental health must be a priority.   I have the honor of attending the WHO follow-up conference tomorrow October 7th, during Global Mental Health week, to hear across the globe how member states and affiliated organizations are going to put the plan into action.

In 2004 when I began my work to end the stigma of depression through rebranding, less than 25% were receiving treatment leaving a full 75% of the world population untreated.  Last year, the World Health Organization statistics reported that the number untreated is now 50%, so while progress might not be evident it is improving.  These statistics bring me joy and gratitude that the tireless work of the people in the field of mental health, creating awareness and bringing services to the 350 million with depression, is not happening in vain.

That being said, there is much left to do.  Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, yet it is treatable.  It is significantly underfunded and still highly stigmatized and there is much more to do to bring treatment numbers to 100%.

I encourage you to join us October 10th, Global Mental Health Day, to learn more about depression.  Join us in watching the free, live Global Web Screening of Hidden Pictures, the first feature documentary on global mental health.  Read and share information on mental health from organizations like Psyhcentral and Webmd with perspectives from both the medical profession and patients.  Or take the pledge to plant a virtual sunflower, showing your solidarity in our movement to bring dignity and respect to those living with depression.

Follow us on Twitter and join our Facebook community for posts throughout Global Mental Health week.  There is Hope.  Depression is treatable.  Share the word and help save a life today.

 

 

Field of Hope

The Field of Hope this year has been one adventure after another. It is amazing it was brought to bloom and rather ironic as well. There were adventures along the way, challenges, obstacles, yet here we sit with the flowers in full bloom.
What is most ironic to me is as the flowers are blooming, I am losing one of the most important people that have ever come into my life, Paul. Paul is on the advisory board of iFred and is one of those people that just epitomizes a good person – and everything a person should commit to be. He doesn’t drink, smoke, has solid faith, exercises, is genuinely kind, does not judge and loves with all his heart. He is the kind of person I think everyone should aspire to be. So to me in many ways this blooming is bittersweet as he was a big reason the field was able to happen.
I’ve been writing a poem about who he and what he meant to me and everyone else to help express my love for this great man and ease my pain. But the reality is nothing hurts more than the loss of a dear friend, a major life event and one that is known to trigger depressive episodes. There are three things that make you susceptible to depression / trigger an episode; abuse in childhood, genetics, and traumatic life events (death of a loved one being on top).

So with my history of depression, while I am happy of the blooming I must think of how I will cope. So I am working to feel and experience the pain and loss, as opposed to escaping, as while escaping might be nice in the short term I know through in the long term it will only hurt me. And I will use my creativity to bring forth beautiful things to express my feelings – art, poetry, music, song, and love. I am recognizing my vulnerability and making sure to eat well, sleep, exercise, pray, surround myself with those I love and be good to myself. And I will keep Paul and his family close to my heart and rejoice in what the field is bringing to others.

Dan Taylor managed the field, and we couldn’t have been luckier, as he is the one that made sure it came to fruition as there were many times along the way it was questionable. We had major issues first with flood, which pretty much never happens in Accra (figures!). Dan was there through the night when the flood came and helped drain the field after and salvaged the flowers he could. He managed to get additional flowers donated to cover the ones we lost, and got donations of fertilizer to make sure the ones that made it actually survived.

When we ran out of money for the project he continued to support it and see it through to the end. He did not give up. He gave his own time and money as he believed it was a field and project much greater than him, symbolic that we should not give up in times of despair no matter what road blocks may lie ahead. Something that anyone experiencing depression always needs to remember.
The field brought together so many in Accra, so many that would not have otherwise spoken of depression or mental illness. The Field of Hope was non controversial – a beautiful project and intrigued people enough to discuss it. And once they found out what it was for, it seemed many had stories to tell. They slipped in the night to help how they could, donating items – a miracle in and of itself.
In Accra, Ghana and throughout Africa I learned that people with any type of mental issue – they are treated as if they have ‘demonic spirits’ in them. That is what most believe there. The individuals are chained to trees and made to fast in the hot sun – so as to rid them of these so called ‘spirits’ – stripped of rights and subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse.

Why everyone can not accept that problems with the brain are no different than problems with the heart, lung, or kidney is completely baffling. Depression is a treatable disease, yet people are needlessly suffering and dying because it is feared. Even in the U.S. – we just recently established Mental Health Parity laws – laws that basically say that people with mental issues should be given the same treatment as those with physical issues (while of course we have to start somewhere, is it really true progress?).

People in the mental health field are very excited about that, and while it is a good thing I wonder how it is possible that so much money, time and effort was spent making this happen when we could have used it treating those effected. The brain is not a ‘special organ’ detached from the rest of our body, in fact it is the most complex organ in the human body and it connects and influences everything we do – it would seem a no-brainer that we treat it as the gem that it is and do all we can to keep it healthy. Just getting the brain now included in our insurance plans seems archaic to me, again I am glad it happened just wish we were further along.

As I look back at the first photo of the field, I reflect on how much it looks and feels like depression in many ways. Muddy, dirty, blah, unattractive, stagnant, colorless (well, brown), sick, unworthy…. those are some things that come to mind. And then I think about all of the issues with the field but saw how people continued watering it, allowing sunlight, and providing nutrients, nurture, faith, and commitment.

And I look at where we ended – a beautiful, proud, yellow, joyful upright sunflower facing the sun. They even look proud to me. Just as someone might look if they had managed their depression successfully after a hard stretch. For those who don’t know – it is such an amazing sight to see.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 depression is going to be the #1 cause of death and disability worldwide – and do you know why? Because people are afraid of acknowledging it. It amazes me each and every day that depression is up to 80% treatable, yet less than 25% are getting treatment in the U.S. alone (2% in Ghana) due to stigma and lack of funding (most likely due to stigma).

We could prevent so many problems if we paid attention and showed acceptance. Why we don’t, in the 21st century, I just can not understand. But maybe, just maybe, by reading this you will see someone with depression differently in the future – you will understand they may be dark and murky, but with love, nurturing, nutrients, sunshine and care they will come out of it brighter than ever. You will give them love and hope and support and encouragement through their dark times.

To all of those that worked tirelessly on the Field this year thank you. We are planting a seed towards acceptance and while it may not be understood now I have faith it will in the years to come. And I want to especially thank Paul and his family for their constant support for something that they may not fully understand or personally experience, but continue to encourage with an open heart and mind.