At the age of 43, Ira Minot became so incapacitated by depression he could hardly function. He needed help, and his girlfriend at the time had little sympathy.
“She was an emergency room nurse, and they’re tough,” he recalls. “She was like, ‘You’re depressed? Snap out of it. I’ve got people coming in with gunshot wounds and stabbings.'”
If only he could, he would think to himself. But it took 10 years of suffering, two serious suicide attempts, endless stints on antidepressants and finally a series of electroshock treatments for Minot to pull out of the disabling disease. His once-thriving career as a fundraiser was destroyed. All that time, he felt terribly alone and ashamed. He could have joined support groups, learned new job skills and contacted advocates who educate families about mental illness. But no one ever told him that.
Minot, now 51, is determined to keep others from suffering in such ignorance. For the last three years he has published Mental Health News, a newspaper brimming with articles by prominent psychiatrists on topics such as post-traumatic stress, suicide, and eating disorders, along with personal tales of triumph by survivors of mental illness. “It is not meant to give false hope,” he says. “Mental illnesses do not always have happy endings. But I do want to inspire people.”
The paper has an avid readership–about 60,000–among those who treat mental illness, as well as those who suffer from it. His experience as both patient and social worker certainly hasn’t hurt his credibility. Once an aide in a psychiatric hospital in White Plains and later a psychotherapist, Minot says suffering depression taught him more about mental illness than he ever learned in social work school. “It was something you couldn’t get out of a book,” he says. “What did I learn? What the illness feels like, the pain, the suffering, the losses it creates, the stigma.”
Publishing for him was something new. He uses his station wagon to drop off hefty bundles of papers at bookstores, psychiatric hospitals, shelters, treatment centers and mental health advocacy offices.
He believes that with the right support, many of those with mental illness can recover. And his writers agree. “Someone with an anxiety disorder may be going to a million doctors and not realize that their real problem is anxiety,” says Richard Francis, MD, chief executive officer of Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut and a contributor to the newspaper. “Seeing it in print may make a difference for them, seeing something written by experts but written in plain and simple language.”