Category: Depression

Despite the fact that people are talking more freely about mental illness as a disease like cancer or heart disease, the stigma is still there. It is hard enough to live with it, but when you have to hide it, everything is worse.


Like cancer, mental illness can kill you. Just notice all those besides Robin Williams who have died from suicide, or drug overdose. Usually, the source of drug overdose is some form of severe mental illness.


Since mental illness is unspoken and unexamined by most, the general public does not know the facts about it. Most of us secretly think mental illness has no effect on us, so why should we care. Often people describe with annoyance the symptoms of family members or acquaintances. They do not know they are complaining about the same symptoms as those with some form of mental illness. It would serve us all to educate ourselves on the topic. Knowing the symptoms could add understanding to those who are suffering, giving them a break. It could also lessen the annoyance of the observers. Once the probable source is known, we can attempt to understand the person, instead of judging them.


The numbers of sufferers are likely higher than you would think. “About 2.4% of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the first comprehensive international figures on the topic. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of bipolar disorder at 4.4%.”


Another way of understanding the number, instead of percentages is the following. According to NIMH, The National Institute of Mental health: “In 2012, there were an estimated 9.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. with SMI (Serious Mental Illness) in the past year. This represented 4.1 percent of all U.S. adults.”


Since there are many people younger than 18 with serious mental illness, that number of 9.6 million is lower than the total number. And that number is just in the US. Think about the world.


If we can be compassionate with Robin Williams, can we be equally compassionate with those in our family or in our neighborhood? Can be compassionate with those in our workplace and in our world?


How do I know about mental illness? I was born to parents with severe mental illness. Witnessing the effects throughout my childhood, it was up front and personal. And in recent years, I have taken supplements to control Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Approximately, there are 95.6% of us who do not suffer with severe mental illness. We cannot know what it is like for those with neurological disorders. We do not even come close to experiencing the kind of pain that the 4.4% feel.


Besides those who suffer severely, there is a larger percentage of the population that suffers some milder form of mental illness. Then add in another percent of us with mentally ill family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. That counts for huge numbers of people. On top of that, count in the unknown numbers of undiagnosed people with neurological disorders.  Is anyone immune to the effects of mental illness in their life?


With all these numbers, it would behoove us rally in the streets for this disease to be addressed more rigorously. More attention to neurological disease is needed in the medical field. As voters, will we demand our elected officials to allocate resources to mental health? Mental health levies often fail because voters don’t see how this issue affects them. In the process of saving a pittance, we lose valuable people. It is not simply through death that we lose people. We lose them through the suffering that kills their spirit when alive. We see it took away a beloved celebrity. Yet, we are blind to the unimaginable, extreme agony Robin Williams endured. He suffered along with 9.6 million adults living just in the US.


Obviously, people who need help are not getting it. What will we do with this knowledge? Who will speak for them? Who will defend them from the ignorant people who blame the victim?


Even with the mental health facilities we do have, we as taxpayers can demand that the mental health departments support those that need it most. The leading research psychiatrist on schizophrenia, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey decries the trend that ignores those with the most painful symptoms. “Torrey has been a fierce opponent of the influence of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. He has also argued that psychiatry should focus only on severe mental illness, conceived as neurological disorders, rather than other mental issues that he viewed as non-medical.”


We all have a responsibility to be aware. This is our world. Until all people have access to effective mental health care, we will continue to lose valuable people to this disease through everyday suicides, through mass murders, through personal vitality, and individual productivity.


Help begins with each one of us. It would be in our national best interest to have compassion for all those suffering mental illness. Can we agree to start there?


We can never replace Robin Williams, or any loved one lost to this disease.  Robin Williams represented joy to us, and he could not have it for himself. Now we can learn from this very public loss and bring understanding and possible action into our lives.  Let us add our voice into a cause that turns silent indifference to genuine support. Since we are interrelated, any positive action for mental health goes a long way  for the welfare of all citizens.



It is stunning to realize how many presidents, philosophers, singers, sports figures, artists, authors, actors, musicians, and people from every profession have suffered major depression. When we are aware of how some people managed to do great things while they felt terrible about themselves and life itself, we have respect and awe rather than distain.


It would appear that their depression did not stop these productive people. That is very clear.


This site reveals the names people who had major depression:

The Wikipedia list is very small compared to the totality of famous people with depression. It gives you a sampling. When you think of all the people in the world with depression and what they go through to dealing with life, it is amazing that anyone can succeed.


The first name on this list, President John Adams, is one that most people would not have guessed. Can you imagine leading a new country while dealing with depression? We know that Abraham Lincoln suffered depression as well. His wife with a gambling addiction likely had depression, too. Life with one’s own depression is challenging enough.


In the last decade I have experienced the challenge myself in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Feeling unhappy during December, January, and February, I find myself uninterested in my former winter delights. Holidays, such as Christmas, New Years or Valentines, have no excitement for me. It all feels like a terrible burden, a dreaded time. Before these symptoms, every year I would decorate the house, host and attend large and small parties, celebrate mine and others’ birthdays, etc. That all stopped abruptly about ten years ago.


After that first depressed December, I realized I had to do something. Starting right away, I took health supplements through the winter. If I did not, I’d be sitting numb all day for 3 months a year, miserably going through some of the motions, but mostly not caring about anything. Even with supplements I am not as upbeat in the winter as I used to be. Yet, I am able to keep up a busy schedule and enjoy what I choose to do. Supplements allow me to stay present in the moment; I no longer wish winter would go away.


Depression, at least from my experience in the form of SAD, is a parasite that eats me alive with only a shell of me left. That first winter experiencing  SAD, I dragged through my day fighting against inner resistance to everything there was to do. Activities I once loved were replaced with a dark blob that swallowed me in its black hole.


Yet the winter experience gives me a window into how it likely was for others in the past, long before effective supplements and before anti-depressants. While there are different expressions of depression, such as excessive anger, fear or sadness, all of those expressions make life more difficult. The fact that so many suffered in silence before antidepressants showed up on the market in 1988, shows how courageous they were just to get up in the morning. Many depressed people got up, kept moving, and contributed to humanity despite feeling unhappy themselves. Truly, I do not know how they did it.


If you have not experienced depression, you may not understand how it feels. As challenging as it is, SAD has actually made me a better coach because I know from the inside what some of my friends, family and clients are going through with depression. I actually use the suggestions I have given others.


On the Wikipedia list, one wonders what must it have felt like to star in a movie with depression, acting happy and romantic, the opposite of what Audrey Hepburn could have felt while experiencing depression. What it took to do that is astounding.


While famous people are no more courageous than the not-so-famous, they have a public story that we know. Many of them have contributed to all of us. It is astonishing what they accomplished, despite the moment-to-moment uphill climb that they endured personally. Since in the past depression was even more of an unmentionable stigma than now, people blamed themselves for their feelings, making them feel even worse.


Just like the contemporary famous and the not-so-famous, depressed people now have to monitor themselves. That is because for most people, medication or supplements do not work equally well through all the years. As one’s body changes, the needs change for the amount or the kind of anti-depressant changes.


Many famous people in the past never got diagnosed because they, like the rest of society, were too depressed to seek help. So the numbers were probably staggering if anyone could have counted them all.  Today, many people do not seek help for many reasons.


There are numerous books on the journey of depression. Some are written about or by famous depressed people. Many books are written by psychologists  for those suffering with depression. My book Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents on depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia sufferers was written from my experience as a family member with a few behind-closed-doors insights. You can order your copy at Amazon or Kindle 


Ultimately it takes quite an enormous effort to keep moving forward in the backward feeling one gets from depression. I have the deepest respect for anyone who daily deals with depression. Sufferers born over thirty years ago got through with little or no help. Some in the last century were given shock treatment that did not work for everyone and caused memory problems often.


In the past, alcohol and opium were the drugs of choice to get through the day. How sufferers achieved anything is astounding.


Depression is an illness that is not easily identified. Even when it is identified, non-sufferers often wrongly assume that depressed people are lazy malcontents. The truth is many are and were truly heroic despite their human tendency to be more unhappy, angry or fearful than the average non-sufferer.


Obviously, some depressed people accomplish great things such as steering a country, painting portraits, creating memorable music, all in the face of a steep mountainous climb. Depressed people need our support, not our hostility.

Bestselling Author and Transformational Coach

Author and coach, Lynn Serafinn spoke passionately about what depression means to her.  On July 27, Lynn shared how the difficulty of depression actually contributed to her success in life.
You can hear the replay below.

Listen to internet radio with Marifran on Blog Talk Radio

The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents

In this excerpt, I describe one day with my bi-polar mother and depressed father.


Weekends were Dad’s days to unwind with his precious radio ball game and copious amounts of beer with chasers. He smoked a lot, too. The kitchen became his station as he stood near the radio, probably so no one else had to hear it any louder than it was. He could be very thoughtful. The real reason may have been that he knew that Mother would not be there in the kitchen.

On one particular day when I was ten years old, Dad bought paint for the kitchen at Mother’s insistence. Not just one color. Mother wanted both pink and white.

Everyone knew Dad did not like to paint. The color pink wasn’t his color, for sure. It is not that he had a color. If he did, it would likely be gray.

With breathing problems, I felt like I could suffocate with the smell of paint. Staying out of the kitchen, I wondered how I would ever survive later in life if I had to paint a room. It was midsummer and the heat was agonizing long before the height of the day. That, in itself, was more than I could take.

It took Dad all day. Dutifully, he painted the opposite walls the same color. Two were pink and two white. To please Mother, he even painted the drawers pink and the cabinets white. By nightfall, he put away the paint cans, brushes and ladder.

The verdict came in. Yes, it was different. And yes, surprisingly it looked crisp and clean. We were impressed. It was 1957 and we had never seen a two-paint combo. This was one crazy idea of Mother’s that wasn’t all bad. Quietly, I told Dad that I liked what he did.

That night watching TV in the living room held no interest. The smell was worse in that part of the house. It was always risky anyway since Mother had a habit of turning it off when it got interesting. With no viable alternatives, I went through the door to the bedroom area. Closing the door to my room off the hall, I tried to sleep very early.

It was ghastly hot, too scorching to go outside. With the smell of paint through the main part of the house, I had more trouble than ever breathing, but that was nothing new. Most nights I sat up all night wishing I could die and just get it all over with. Sitting up as usual, I pondered if this really was my last breath since it was such a struggle both inhaling and exhaling. Amazingly, the struggle just continued as I watched the minutes go by and I accepted the end of it all. I watched the evening light gradually switch to dark. Eventually the need for sleep overtook me and I continued the difficult breathing after exhaustion ruled the night.

In the morning, I was mystified how I made it through the night. I always awoke sleep deprived and usually shocked into consciousness. I was rudely awakened by the sound of loud radio music that my father used to wake us up. One of us, he explained, was hard to awaken, so all of us had to hear this monstrous sound much louder than was necessary to awaken hibernating bears.

We had thirty minutes to get dressed and eat before leaving the house for Sunday Mass. Soon we met in the newly painted kitchen to get ourselves some stale cereal and rancid skim milk.

Mother was there already. Immediately I noticed the painted cabinets and drawers. There were words written in crayon, pencil and pen. Seeing it, I felt deep disappointed. I stopped and looked around. The nice kitchen couldn’t last. I knew it. “But so soon?” I was not prepared. I regretted going to bed early and not enjoying the kitchen while it was new. My face clearly told the story.

Mother glared ready to pounce on me, as if I was the one who had defaced the room. She wanted me to say something, so she could defend herself. My face had already said enough.

Silently, first searching for milk in a moldy refrigerator, and then
cereal, bowl and spoon. They could be anywhere and rarely where you’d expect. Ah, the spoon was in a drawer, and it was clearly used before. I decide to use it anyway since washing it was a problem. The dishrag was filthy. The sink, full of caked-on dirty dishes, smelled.

Finding a bowl was another matter. A bowl could be any room except the kitchen. Bowls would be wherever Mother had a whim to put them. Knowing how clever and creative she was, I wasn’t in the mood. So I took the dirty bowl left on the table. Probably Dad used it because I heard him leaving the kitchen earlier. So I sat down silently with my disappointment.

Seven-year-old brother Eddie came in. “What’s this?” was his instant, innocent inquiry.

“What! Don’t you like it?” Mother shrieked. “This way I’ll know where to find things” she justified.

I wiggled in my seat with this piece of news. “Wow, when did she ever want to know where anything was?” I questioned wordlessly. She had far too much fun playing the ‘lost’ game. I dared not look up, much less say how ridiculous that was, as I kept looking at the anemic and curdled milk in the bowl. I was sure that Mother added water to the skim milk to save money. No one wanted to drink much milk, so it went bad before it was used up.

Twelve-year-old brother Jerry came in. As usual, he searched for a bowl, gave up, and asked me when I’d be finished with mine. He showed not the slightest reaction to the kitchen ‘décor.’

Not a thing surprised him, or he had a good pretense of not noticing and not caring. I marveled at his demeanor. For him, nothing happened before the paint or after Mother’s grafitti. Either nothing mattered to him, or he was smarter than Eddie and me.

Another chapter can be found on