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Depression: A Personal and Professional View – Guest Blog post

Depression: A Personal and Professional View

By Deborah Serani, Psy.D.

As a young girl, I always felt this looming sense of sadness. I remember feeling tired and sullen a good deal of the time when I was in elementary school. These feelings didn’t get much better when I was at home either. Like Eeyore, the glum little donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood, sometimes family and friends saw me as a sad-sack.  Unaware of what depression was or how to detect it, I descended into a Major Depressive Episode when I was a 19 year old college student. Hopeless and suicidal, I nearly took my life with a handgun that was easily accessible in my home. Luckily, my attempt was interrupted, and swift medical help was sought. I found a psychologist who helped release me from the grip of my unshakable sadness and taught me about the mood disorder called unipolar depression. Not only did psychotherapy save my life, it inspired me to become a student of its practice.

It was good that I studied many years as a psychologist and learned about mental illness in all its forms, because the second time I had a Major Depressive Episode in my 30’s, I was better prepared. Now in full remission, I use my personal experiences with depression to inform my clinical work. This dual approach gives me a unique perspective because not only do I know what it’s like to to diagnose and treat depression… I know what it’s like to live with it too.

Now, a therapist doesn’t need to live through an event or have firsthand knowledge to help someone heal. However, the subjective experience of my mental illness, its long-standing trajectory, and my familiarity with medication informed me in ways that clinical training and education never could. I lived within the layers of depression and knew the identifiable, the indescribable, and the insidious textures of it. When working with children and adults, I was better able to recognize the roadblocks that came from neurobiological aspects of depression versus emotional resistance in the psychological sense. I understood the shame patients experienced needing medication or how they felt betrayed by their body’s neurobiological weaknesses. I could relate to the stories of frustration from side effects and to the decisions to stop medication because side effects were intolerable.

My emotional journey has taken me from sadness to despair, through adversity to resolve. Through it all, I discovered within myself hidden reserves of strength and spirit—what many in the field call resilience. Writing about depression and advocating for those who experience mental illness have become the silver lining of my depressive cloud. It is my hope that my story will serve as an encouraging reminder that depression can be treated – and that there’s no shame living with mental illness.

Deborah Serani is the author of “Living with Depression” by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group

We’re looking for empathetic support group facilitators for caregivers

What is Family Support Group Facilitation?

When is it?

Does it cost money?

Who is eligible?

NAMI Massachusetts will be holding Support Group Facilitation training over the course of 2 Saturdays, November 12th & December 3rd from 9:30-4:30.  The course is FREE and lunch will be provided.

We will be training volunteer family caregivers of persons living with a serious mental illness to facilitate support groups throughout the state to other family members in your area.  Facilitators need to work as a team of 2 or more and hold their group once a month (at the very least).

People trained will to commit to facilitating a support group for a minimum of 24 times (2 years if doing the group once a month) and be a member of NAMI Massachusetts.  (The cost of membership is $35 a year or $3.00 for people who cannot afford the $35.)


Only this training and the ability to listen empathetically and able to speak openly about mental illness will qualify you.

Seating is very limited

Please call Karen McGravey-Gajera, Family Education and Support Programs Coordinator at 781-938-4048 or kgajera@namimass.org to register and for more information.

NAMI Massachusetts policy on “aversive” therapy

September 14, 2011

Approved by NAMI Massachusetts Public Policy and Advocacy Committee

NAMI Massachusetts


NAMI Massachusetts strongly opposes widespread and unlimited use of aversive skin therapy, and believes that it should be used only in very limited circumstances, and only when all other therapies have failed to address the problem(s).  Furthermore, NAMI Massachusetts supports comprehensive state oversight and regulation of aversive skin therapy.


Chris Previtera, Chair

Joe Giannino, Legislative Director

Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director

Commission for the Reform of Community, Social Service and Paratransit Transportation Services

Executive Order No. 530

The general public is invited to Six listening / comment sessions which have been scheduled across the Commonwealth to seek input from the public.

Executive Order 530 charges the Commission members to examine and offer suggestions to improve/reform community, social service and paratransit transportation.



3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Sept 13, 2011 – Lawrence

Tuesday Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St

Sept 21, 2011 – West Barnstable

Wednesday Cape Cod Community College, 2240 Iyannough Rd, Tilden Arts Center

Oct 4, 2011 – Worcester

Tuesday Union Station, 34 Washington Square, Union Hall

Oct 12, 1011 – Springfield

Wednesday Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, 60 Congress St

Oct 27, 2011 – Pittsfield

Thursday BRTA Intermodal Center, 1 Columbus Ave

Nov 7, 2011 – Boston

Monday State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza


If you are unable to attend a Public Comment and Dialogue session in person,

Please submit an email to: execorder@mbta.com

Call the comment line (617) 222-6260 or (617) 222-5415 TTY,

Or send mail to MBTA, EO530, 45 High Street, 5th Floor, and Boston, MA   02110

Waiting in the Dark – Guest blog post

By Annie Martin

For some, there comes a point when you’ve lost the person you once were. This follows having to face and acknowledge the stranger staring back at you through the mirror. But it is not until we are lost that we begin to truly find ourselves.

As a nineteen-year-old young woman, I have been faced with this very stranger. In fact, there came a point in my life when I was downright frightened of the young girl in my reflection. But it was only after some time that I began to develop empathy, for I too, found fear in her eyes. All she wanted was for someone to understand and lend a loving hand to walk alongside her during the trying times.

This very girl was too afraid of reaching out to her closest friends and family members from simple fear of being ostracized and judged insensitively. She could hardly understand what it was she truly felt, so how could others? Besides, she thought, it was much too embarrassing to admit weaknesses. She was always told to buck up, stand tall, brush off your shoulders, and do what needs to be done. But she didn’t know how to accomplish what needed to be done anymore. It was too hard, and she was too scared. Life called for too many demands and she felt as if she was expected to be just like every other teenager.

This vulnerability was depression and anxiety screaming at me loudly every single day. It was not an unfamiliar territory, for anxiety was something I was greatly familiar with. As a young child, I suffered immensely from anxiety of not wanting to attend school and causing any ruckus you could imagine to get out of it. Being away from my home, mom, dad, my big brothers, and all my loving pets absolutely terrified me. I never felt I was in my safe zone.

But it seemed things only got worse with age. When I turned sixteen, my world was rocked and tossed upside down. I developed frustrating physical health complications relating to my digestive system, and I began experiencing dreadful panic attacks. This was all accompanied by obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, clinical depression, posttraumatic stress disorder from unfortunate childhood experiences, amongst other anxiety related conditions such as hypochondria. In a nut shell, I felt ironically nuts. I didn’t know anyone in my condition at such a level. Thus, I became fearful of the world and the people around me. What would they think? What would they say? Was someone going to wrap me up in a straight jacket? I figured I would be forced back into therapy, something I had been in and out of for years. In retrospect, I was scared to ask for help simply due to the fact that talk-therapy had never done much for me in the past.

All of these excuses and reasoning’s was simply stigmatized by my influential thoughts and feelings from what I had seen, heard and experienced throughout my environment.  As a child, I remembered distinctively how the hurt felt when someone made fun of me for crying every day before going into school. I didn’t need that again given how sensitive I felt.

With time, I have realized that shame does me no good. My flaws and weaknesses are only that of a journey and evolution. What may have seemed awful and unfair at the time turned out to be one of my most beautiful moments. I know that getting back up after falling and continuing to climb is where the real satisfaction is, it has nothing to do with how quickly I get to the top.  I also know now that happiness needs sadness, success needs failure, victory needs defeat and pleasure needs pain. You must experience all these extremes that way you never lose the value and appreciation of anything.

I don’t view my hardships as a weakness. I view at as a gift; fore it has taught me more than a chalkboard could ever. I’ve learned to grow with myself, accept others, give love, and help people when their eyes cry for help.

I am in the beginning stages of shedding the shame and building an army of love. For those that I have opened up to thus far, I have only found acceptance and respect in return. Owning up to whom I’ve become and advocating for my mental illnesses is something I have found beneficial for everyone involved.

Though I still struggle on a day-to-day basis, I am taking good notes from the heart throughout and in return sharing that with the world and those around me. Becoming an advocate for my own mental illnesses has instilled a sense of courage and honesty I didn’t think I had. My goal is to reduce the stigma behind mental health and help those find their voice. You will find that it was never lost; it was simply waiting in the dark.

I hope anyone out there reading these words take into account that you can find strength through your pain. There is beauty in everything if you truly look. After all, problems are only opportunities with thorns on them.  Dare to be yourself and dare to show the world.

A blogger activist set out to stand up and reduce the stigma behind mental health. Join her as she reflects on her experiences, the people she speaks with, the topics she focuses on, and the things she learns along the way. To read more of Annie Martin visit her blog: http://waitinginthedarkproject.tumblr.com/

Why we need an alternative to ‘stigma’ – Guest blog post

by Chris Jones

Last year, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a worrying report which suggested that attitudes towards mental illness in the US are not improving, despite an increase in campaigns raising awareness. Although that study suggests that anti-stigma campaigns should focus on people rather than diseases, emphasising the capabilities of people with mental illnesses, I would go further and argue that one of the reasons for the failure of these campaigns is the concept of stigma itself, rather than just the way it is used.

Irving Goffman, who has published one of the most influential books on the theory of stigma, calls it ‘a special discrepancy between virtual and actual social identity’, so that to be stigmatized is to defy social norms in a way that others find uncomfortable. The problem with addressing ‘stigma’ as an issue is that it presupposes a problem with the individual. With a history going back as far as the Biblical Mark of Cain, the idea of a physical or social mark of difference has been used to justify the social ostracism of lepers and prostitutes as well as people with mental illnesses. Focusing campaigning efforts on ‘stigma’ does not remove the perceived mark, but provides a ‘social category’ into which people with mental illnesses can be put.

As there are stereotypes of how to ‘be’ disabled, a ‘sick role’ in which the patient is required to conform to medical advice, and to act out the character of either a cheerful invalid or a heroic cripple, there are also ways to ‘be’ mentally ill. Addressing stigma suggests there is a problem with the individual that requires action on their part as much as the part of those around them, that there is an absolute distinction between people with mental illnesses and people without. The concept of stigma sees this distinction as insurmountable, aiming instead to provide a less-bad social category for people with mental illnesses to occupy.

I don’t think it is helpful to make this absolute distinction. That is not to say that I deny that the existence of mental illness, or its impact on people’s lives, but that I see no reason why people with mental illnesses should be defined by and reduced to their diagnoses. Separate social categories are both the cause of and caused by social inequality, so emphazsising these categories will never be the best way to allow people with mental illnesses to engage in society on equal terms.

Rather than discussing ‘the stigma of mental illness’, I suggest the solution proposed by Liz Sayce, a long-term British disability rights and policy worker, that we focus on discrimination against people with mental illnesses rather than the stigma of the illnesses themselves. This conforms to the suggestions in the AJP report, while also transferring the focus away from the individuals affected by discrimination and onto those who are doing the discriminating. It is not the fault of people with mental illnesses that they suffer from discrimination, it is the fault of a society which has so far refused to accept the fact that ‘mentally ill’ is not a separate social category containing ‘crazies’ and ‘psychos’, but a cross-section of society as a whole, containing more differences than similarities. Focus on discrimination allows us to draw attention to individual cases where mentally ill people are unfairly targeted, and from there to break down the barriers to social inclusion from the inside.

Chris Jones has just completed an MSc thesis on challenges to public perception of mental ill-health in recent Scottish drama at the University of Edinburgh, and is about to begin research for a PhD in Drama at the University of Kent, examining the representation of psychic distress in British drama. He blogs at http://madnessandtheatre.wordpress.com/