July 2009         

Ted Smith

How do you explain feelings of sadness and isolation coming out of nowhere when you are the happiest you have ever been?  Ted Smith doesn’t understand but it happened to him.  In 1992, when his life was going well both professionally and personally, he was diagnosed with major depression.  Ted explained, “I felt like I was in a bubble and couldn’t get out of it, and I couldn’t understand why.  All I know is that, when I should have been happiest, the only feelings I had were ones of desperate loneliness and extreme sadness.”

Ted Smith is a producer-director at the central Ohio television station, WBNS 10TV.  He directs the morning and noon news, a fast-paced, high pressure job.  He also creates, writes, edits and produces many of the station’s community service spots.  He has been with the station since 1972 and has worked his way up the ladder.  He did this despite struggling for much of that time with unexplained symptoms that caused frustration and anger that grew steadily worse.

Ted was able to hold it together at work, but once at home, Ted would lose his temper.  He often took his pent up anger out on the things that made him happiest.   Ted explained, “Rather than destroy things I loved, I would scrape my knuckles down rough wall finishes or make superficial slashes on my hands and arms.” 

Self-harm became his release technique.  On occasion he contemplated suicide, but he never considered hurting anyone else.   He eventually landed in the psychiatric ward at Mt. Carmel Hospital.

Ted credits many people for helping him survive his debilitating depression.  The doctors, nurses and staff at Mt. Carmel were wonderful.  Once diagnosed with depression and reassured that depression is a treatable illness, he readily accepted help.  He began taking medication that enabled his brain’s neurotransmitters to “fire properly.”  Ted was relieved to find out that there was a medical explanation for his feelings and behaviors.  He also began counseling as a part of his treatment plan. 

Ted also credits his sister for her understanding, “You have to have this to understand it.  My younger sister is also living with major depression and we are each other’s primary support in dealing with our illnesses.”  When he told his mother that he had been diagnosed with depression, she said “everyone gets depressed now and then.”  Talking with his sister and putting all the pieces together, Ted learned that depression runs in the Smith family.  His father, two sisters, grandmother and uncle all have major depression.  Some got treatment, most didn’t. 

I am sure there are many in the business that would benefit from increased understanding, reduced stigma and the acceptance of brain disorders as the illnesses they are. 

Finally, Ted credits his supportive boss who provided the “cover” he needed to get treatment.  When co-workers inquired about Ted’s absence, they were told he was being treated for high blood pressure.   As a result, Ted did not have to worry that the stigma of mental illness would cost him his job.  Eventually, after returning to work, Ted was able to engage in quiet, side conversations with co-workers at the station who also dealt with depression. 

Reflecting on his work in the media, Ted said “Broadcasting is very stressful.  I am sure there are many in the business that would benefit from increased understanding, reduced stigma and the acceptance of brain disorders as the illnesses they are.  Depression is real.  It hurts like you wouldn’t believe.  It is a disease and help is out there.  You have to take the step and acknowledge you need help.  There is hope because depression is treatable.  I am living proof.”

It was difficult to publicly acknowledge his illness because of the fear of how others would view him, but Ted is speaking out because, “I don’t want the next person to have to suffer in silence and fear.  I want others to benefit from my experience and to avoid the demons of depression.” 

Mental Health Advocates Are Needed to Move Health Care Reform in Washington

As Congress moves toward its month-long summer recess, health care legislation has reached a critical stage.  While neither the House nor the Senate is expected to move forward on a final vote on legislation this week, a strong grassroots push is needed to keep the pro-reform effort on track going into the fall.  For the remainder of the week a toll-free number is up and running to direct calls to all House and Senate offices.  While advocates can also send e-mails and hand-written notes to members of Congress, phone calls directly to congressional offices are drawing the most attention in this critical stage in the debate.

NAMI Ohio strongly encourages advocates to use the following toll-free numbers that will be up and running through August 7:

U.S. House of Representatives:  To connect to House offices, call 1-800-828-0498.  A second toll-free number, 1-866-308-6259,  will connect callers to a recording that requires them to enter their zip code and then be connected directly to their House member. 

U.S. Senate:  To connect to Senate offices, call 1-866-544-7573.  Again, callers will hear a pre-recorded message and will need to enter your zip code. You will then be asked whether you want your call to go to your state’s junior Senator or your senior Senator. Each state has two U.S. Senators, and the senior Senator from your state has been in the Senate longer than the junior Senator. To send your call to your junior Senator, Press 1. To send your call to your senior Senator, Press 2. After making your selection, your call will be redirected to the appropriate office.

NAMI’s message to Congress is:

  1. Move on health reform legislation this year that provides quality and affordable health care for all while reducing the rate of growth in health care costs in the future;

  2. Ensure that mental illness treatment is included as part of any required basic benefit package AND is covered at parity relative to medical surgical benefits consistent with Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008; and

  3. Address medical co-morbidities experienced by individuals with serious mental illness through expanded access to primary care and early intervention services.

Stigma Busting Challenge: Prepare for the dog-days of summer—drop off a fan and some cool treats to a local adult care facility.