“We need to recognize that even the problems we regard as common place can be major contributors to depression. We don’t pay enough attention to people who are really struggling but hide it well. We need to show greater kindness to people who are dealing with these issues; before it gets to the point of a crisis.”
- Phil Kaplan, Mental Health Advocate with NAMI Baltimore
You can never know the battles someone is fighting under the surface based on their outward appearance. That’s what Philip Kaplan told students while presenting with NAMI Baltimore’s In Our Own Voice program. He shared with them that the last time he was with a group of students from their school he was volunteering with a mock trial competition. At the time he looked the part of the “big impressive lawyer in a suit” but students would have never known he was fighting an invisible battle with depression that had left him unable to work for six months.
This time he was there to honestly share his story with the hope that it would increase compassion and reduce stigma towards those living with mental illness. He urged students to understand that if they are struggling with their mental health they’re not alone. He said “This is happening to everyone, even the best and brightest among us. People need to understand that and be open about it. That is why I am determined to openly talk about how my mental health has impacted my life without shame.”
Phil’s battle with depression started several years ago when he was working as a lawyer. From the outside, Phil looked like he was thriving; he was a successful child welfare lawyer, he was respected by local judges and he had supportive friends. But inside, he was deeply unhappy. He had invested so much to become a lawyer, but his work often left him feeling powerless and sad.
After a while it became clear that this constant unhappiness had become depression. Phil was feeling hopeless and had trouble finding motivation to work. His depression continued to get worse, eventually causing him to leave his job.
Phil had internalized the belief that career success equals life success. He thought that if he was professionally successful; happiness, romantic love and life satisfaction would follow. Several years into his career it was clear that a successful career would not guarantee a happy life; it didn’t stop the loneliness, it didn’t help with dating, it didn’t make him any happier. He began to ask himself ‘what did I do all this for?’
Today Phil makes managing his mental health a priority. His depression has improved but he still takes daily steps to support his recovery. He regularly goes to therapy, maintains close relationships with supportive friends, confides in his girlfriend and shares his story with NAMI. Formerly an atheist, faith has been an important part of Phil’s recovery journey. His faith helped him hold on to hope through the darkest days of his depression.
Many elements of Phil’s story may resonate with you. If the pressures of everyday life are leaving you feeling hopeless, anxious, or depressed, you can take steps to improve your mental health now. For those of you who are struggling, Phil has a message for you:
“Your feelings, whatever they are, are valid and deserving of sympathy and attention. Don’t think that your feelings and your story doesn’t count. Your story does count. What you are feeling is legitimate. You deserve compassion and you deserve to be heard.”
Join Our Mental Health Awareness Month Social Media Challenge
We are doing a social media challenge for Mental Health Awareness Month! We hope that by showing that mental health impacts us all we will decrease the stigma associated with seeking care for mental health. Everyone must actively care for their mental health and wellness, especially this year.
We want you to answer the question: What has helped your mental health this past year?
Send us a picture of yourself holding an object that represents something that has helped your mental health this past year. Here are some ideas, you can send a photo with:
A word written on a piece of paper that represents something that has helped your mental health
An object that represents a new hobby or passion you have developed this year