Mental illness is a big deal, but there’s hope |

Mental illness is a big deal, but there’s hope

“I know that asking for help takes a lot of courage and I know if I reach out a hand, someone’s there.”

Nina Gabianelli followed those words with a humorous performance—the song “Dieter’s Prayer” by Amanda McBroom—but her message was heartfelt. During Monday’s Diva Cabaret at Thunder River Theatre Company, Gabianelli spoke and sang about her journey to the Roaring Fork Valley. The hour-long tale included her battle with alcoholism.

I don’t share Gabianelli’s particular struggle, but we each face challenges. So when she spoke those words, I related. My challenges include depression and seasonal affective disorder, and reaching out to others is one of the most important parts of my path forward.

I’ve known this about myself since I was 14. I spent my freshman year of high school waking up too early and watching infomercials until time for school. I felt isolated from my friends, although I had a solid group. There wasn’t a reason to feel so lonely or sad, but I was often bereft.

That isn’t unusual; in 2015 the National Institute of Mental Illness reported an estimated 3 million American youth ages 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the year prior. That’s 12.5 percent of American kids in that age range. Major depression is also one of the most common mental disorders among American adults, NIMH reported.

My mental well-being ebbed and flowed through the years, and I would sob at least monthly for no apparent reason. Sixteen years later, I finally got help.

A breakup finally pushed me to my edge. I had long considered therapy, but I wasn’t sure my experience was abnormal. I functioned just fine, with grades high enough to earn a full college scholarship and then steady professional success. But when I found myself regularly crying on my office’s bathroom floor, I finally made that phone call.

When we spoke before her show, Gabianelli said she wanted other alcoholics to know there is hope. She’s been sober for 15-and-a-half years, and that’s a key piece of her success.

Again, I related. I speak openly about depression, therapy and medication because I want others to know they aren’t alone. Depression is a big deal, but it doesn’t have to overtake your life. I’m lucky: My first therapist was a dream, and a tiny dose of antidepressants helped my symptoms abate. We met weekly, then monthly, then on an as-needed basis as she helped me establish positive coping mechanisms.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never return to therapy. I’m almost certain I’ll again cry in a workplace bathroom. (I’m a sensitive person!) But I know now that I can reach out a hand and someone — many someones — will be there.

Carla Jean Whitley is an introvert, but she isn’t shy. Reach the Post Independent’s features editor at

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