Depression should not be a taboo subject; rural Kentucky news editor details writes about her victory over it

By Tim Mandell
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Depression is a subject people often shy away from discussing, but a large percentage of Americans suffer from, or have
suffered from, serious depression. Around 50 million have become seriously depressed at some point during their lives, according
to a report by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

The suicide last month of actor Robin Williams brought
depression to the forefront of the national news for a few weeks, but as
the national focus shifted to other stories, community journalists should continue to
talk about depression, especially in rural areas where people might feel
they will be ostracized if they express how they feel.

That’s why it’s important when journalists like Shelley
Spillman, news editor of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, Ky., step forward
and write columns detailing their own battles with depression.

Spillman, who was inspired to write a column after
Williams’ death and the suicide of a local man who suffered from depression,
said in an interview, “This is not something we normally talk about and maybe we should. Maybe
these people wouldn’t feel so alone.”

“As journalists we’re part of the community too,” she said.
“I really enjoy people getting to know me, my real struggles in life and the things
I’ve been through. It’s amazing how relating to people on a human to human
level is one of the most difficult things to do. But it’s so important.”

In her column, Spillman wrote: “I, too, have suffered from
the cold, metallic grip of depression. I know what it’s like to be in a room
full of people and still feel alone. You’d give anything to feel the warmth of
company without having to go through the mental gymnastics of plastering on a
fake smile just so you don’t have to be berated with ‘are you OK?’ or ‘what’s
wrong?’ It’s not their fault. Most people don’t know how to deal with people
who suffer from depression. Even in our daily interactions people stop and ask ‘How
are you doing?’ without sticking around long enough to hear anything other than
a one-word utterance of ‘Fine.’”
“It does get better; give it time. I understand, though, that
giving depression time, when a day with it can feel like carrying around the
weight of a giant boulder, seems impossible, but you can. Sometimes when I think
about my time with depression it seems so far away, like I’m at the fair
soaring on one of those giant swings, examining bad memories of someone else’s
life. I can feel black fog of depression permeating in my brain, trying to find
a way back in, but I immediately recognize the intruder and sent it packing. Like
I said, it’s a parasite, it’s always looking for a host to attach to.”
Spillman added, “You’ll find that you are a lot stronger than you may even
realize now. You can make it out of this, and one day the clouds will part and
you’ll be able to see the sun again. Let me tell you the sun feels glorious on
your skin after a longtime in the dark.”
Spillman told The Rural Blog: “Readers who have called appreciate my honesty in my columns. It’s hard to put yourself out there and be
that vulnerable, but I like for my columns to be honest and real. It’s a way for people
to know who I am.” She said that writing a column like this is “a good way to
get the ball rolling to get people talking about (depression).” She said she
hopes columns like this can lead to there being more resources for people with
depression, especially in small communities, and lead to depression being a subject that’s less taboo to discuss. (The Anderson
News is behind a paywall but can be reached by clicking here.)

The Extension Service report details signs and types of depression, suggestions for those suffering from depression and suggestions for friends and family members of people who are depressed. Other valuable sources are available here, here, here, here and here.

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