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I Struggled for Years to Get Help. Now I’m Working To Change The Way We Treat Mental Illness



By Melissa Grant


I was sitting at the bottom of the carpet-covered stairs in my brother’s house about two years ago, talking to my 30-year-old niece, when I said it out loud to someone for the first time.


I was done, I said. I had finally reached my limit with my depression. I would give myself and my family time to prepare, but I no longer had any hope of anything ever changing.


Nothing had changed in more than 20 years — it had only grown worse each year. I had begun to accept that giving up was the only thing left to do. This scared me because I had always found a way to keep fighting no matter how far gone I felt. Yet, on another level, there was a calmness, a sense of relief that the darkness could soon be over.


The conversation was emotional yet calm, and my niece listened empathetically, holding back her fears of what I was intimating. But I was exhausted. Every minute of my life was a mental battle, and I was constantly filled with dread, hopelessness or utter nothingness.


There really are no words to describe how I was feeling. But I know there are many others dealing with severe depression and anxiety who know exactly what I was feeling.


The Current Mental Health System


How did I get to that point?


I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in my late twenties while working on Wall Street as an Equity Analyst. I started seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants, but my symptoms worsened until I was not only unable to function day-to-day, but no longer had any good days at all. I faked it enough through the bad days to make it to work and fulfill other obligations I couldn’t escape, all the while wanting nothing more than to be back in bed and checked out. Then there were the horrible days, weeks and even months in which I rarely left the house and barely got out of bed. Taking a shower or fixing myself a meal were seemingly impossible tasks.

I was a shell of a person, and even if I did make it out of the house, I was disconnected and disengaged from life.


During rare moments of relatively more energy and sufficient financial resources, I forced myself to try anything new that might help. I tried acupuncture, yoga, special diets, supplements of every kind, personal trainers, numerous holistic doctors, NAET, endocrinologists, hormone specialists, and a total of 13 different antidepressants or cocktails of antidepressants.


Nothing helped. I was what they term “treatment resistant.”


For 20 years, I navigated the the mental health care system, and its insufficiencies and gaps became very clear to me. Because of these shortfalls, I couldn’t access the care I needed; I was left to manage my care on my own; I had no reliable or lasting support for myself or for the people trying to support me; and it was difficult to get and receive consistent treatment and evaluations. I was never really evaluated holistically. I had to see separate providers depending on my various symptoms, which I knew were related but had to piece together myself. There was no decent source to help me assess the quality of care I was receiving or what was on the cutting edge of treatment.


Over the years, I frequently searched for dedicated spaces to get the help I needed in one place. I found three options: 1) inpatient services for people truly in crisis, 2) mind, body, spirit retreats in places like Malibu for a week or two at ridiculous costs, and 3) places like the Mayo Clinic, where a team of doctors would review your case for a significant sum of money.


For someone like me, however, none of these were viable or relevant options.


To be clear, I’m not blaming doctors. Rather, I see a system with misaligned incentives. Mental health doesn’t neatly follow suit with what we term “physical” health. Yet mental health services, in most instances, have been created using the same model that exists to treat things like measles, heart attacks or a torn meniscus: identify the cause, then implement the cure — a vaccine, a beta blocker, a surgery, etc., that can be applied nearly universally to everyone.


This model doesn’t always work for brain illness. For some, the generally prescribed antidepressants do wonders and help. But for far too many, they work minimally or not at all.


READ MORE: How the current treatment model fails and what a new solution looks like


To complicate matters, there is the issue of stigma.


Rather than addressing my illness with an employer, I would simply quit a job, limp through life until I had the energy to get another one, only to end up quitting that one too when the depression reared its ugly head once more. Too many people still see depression as a lack of mental toughness, an inability to deal with the hard times and stress that affect us all. How, after all, can one claim to not have control of one’s mind? (Stay tuned to this blog for more thoughts on this question soon.)


Mercifully, I recently finally found a treatment that has given me relief from some of my most severe depression and anxiety symptoms. (Again, stay tuned! Another story for another blog post.)


I’m not yet fully where I want to be, but for the first time in over 11 years, I have hope, I can feel, I can think and I can do. I can see a future for myself. I can see a life worth living. And it doesn’t include any more conversations with loved ones about giving up. My family’s life, too, no longer needs to be encumbered by my depression.


But that’s not enough. Years of confronting these issues personally, hearing others’ similar experiences and wishing for services that just didn’t exist within the current system have led me to want to do more, and to the creation of Lives Unencumbered — an organization dedicated to changing the system.


A Path and an Invitation


I see all around me the toll depression and anxiety takes on people’s lives and the lives of those who love them.


I know a woman who is someone’s mother, wife, daughter, and friend who struggles year in and year out. She suffers, her husband suffers, and her children suffer. She doesn’t talk about it except to a select few who have their own struggles with depression, putting on a face to the world that she is fine. But she is not fine, her children are not fine and her husband is not fine. Their lives are tangled and darkened by her depression.


There are too many others of you out there — men, women, children — suffering, struggling, living half a life or no life at all.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Tell us your story!


I, for one, am tired and fed up with the status quo. We can do better. I, my two amazing partners, Amanda Olson and Amanda Wirtz, and the entire Lives Unencumbered team, who have graciously dedicated the last four months of their time, are passionate and committed to our vision to make things better.


But we need your help to execute our plan to create a revolutionary new treatment process that will help those impacted to climb out of the darkness and fog of depression and anxiety and get the help they need.


How can you help? No matter who you are, no matter your resources, there is something you can do:

  • Contribute to our fundraiser, even if it’s just one dollar, to help us create a new solution.

  • Help promote our project so we can reach people in your networks willing to help.

  • Provide feedback and relevant information by participating in future surveys.

  • If you are a mental health practitioner or researcher, contact us to share your input and insights.

  • Add your voice to ours and send a clear message to administrators, doctors, insurance providers, legislators, employers and the many others that we need to bring to the table to make the systemic changes necessary to build a financially and operationally viable new mental healthcare model.

But even more importantly, we ask you:


Be real and courageous in speaking out, sharing your story and helping fight the stigma associated with mental illness.


Reject any shame associated with depression and anxiety and seek the help you need.


Educate your loved ones and let your loved ones educate you on how your depression impacts their lives.


We cannot do this without you. We need you to join us in this fight to heal all lives burdened from this illness.


Together, I truly believe that this is not only possible, but also completely achievable.


Join us!


BACK OUR PROJECT

You can help create a new path for treating depression and anxiety.

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