By Kevin Canessa
For this week’s edition of The Observer, I was fortunate to be able to research and write a story about Lyndhurst becoming a “Stigma Free” town. In a nutshell, what it all means is that township leaders — from the mayor and board of commissioners, to the Woman’s Club, to township employees … everyone really … want stigmas that are often attached to mental illness to be wiped away.
It may be a monumental task, but they’re trying — and they’re putting a lot of time and effort into the program. One of the common themes I heard from those interviewed for the story was that to the uneducated, when it comes to mental illness, the thought is, those people should just “shut up and deal with it.”
Oh, if only it were that easy.
While I can’t recall specifically, I’m pretty sure the first time I realized I had depression was sometime around fifth-grade, in 1984. I could have a tremendous day at school — everything went my way — but when I got home, something didn’t feel right. I would be overwhelmed with sadness. Yet nothing really happened that would have caused me to feel the way I did.
In 1984, I had no outlet to talk about it. I understood nothing about it. And, back then, and the years that followed, there wasn’t much discussion about depression at all, if any, whether it was at school, at church, at home (especially) or anywhere for that matter.
So I just dealt with it.
The depression grew deeper in high school. I still had no idea why it was happening. And, again, since this was 1988 to 1992, it wasn’t discussed, really, at school, guidance counselors were pretty useless — and there were very few, if any, outlets to turn to for help.
So, on and off, throughout high school, I dealt with it. Sometimes, it was extremely difficult to get out of bed to go to school. On weekends, getting out of bed could, at times, be as monumental a task as I could ever face.
It was that bad.
For whatever reason — maybe it was the independence of being out of state, on my own for the first time — during my four years in Newport, R.I., for undergraduate studies, it all went away. Or, at least I thought it did.
The depression would return in the late 1990s, and it was as bad as ever. But this time, it was different. I came to the realization that I needed help, that I couldn’t do it alone — and that I wasn’t afraid what anyone thought of my situation.
I began taking medication for depression — Cymbalta — and it was a game-changer, perhaps even a life-saver. I had support from most of my friends and most of my family. And the difference the medication made … still makes to this day … is unfathomable.
One relative of mine, when I told him I took medication for depression, responded, “Kev, you need to just suck it up. You’re a man. Men just need to deal with it.”
Sadly, he was uninformed. He saw depression as only situational — and for some, that may very well be — whether it’s caused by traumatic events, death of a loved one, whatever. But for some, it’s biological, a disease, that if left untreated, only gets worse and worse and worse.
I share this story because I want to demonstrate that what is happening in Lyndhurst is nothing short of amazing. I hope the other towns in our readership area, including my home town of Kearny, adopt similar policies in the coming months. Because the truth is, no one chooses depression — but for whatever reason, it chooses 1 in 4 Americans.
And in a modern world, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about if you’re depressed. There should be no stigma about this disease, just as there shouldn’t be about any other disease in the world. There is help out there. There’s medication. There’s counseling. There’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed — or stigmatized — about mental-health diseases.
And make no mistake about it — mental-health issues are, indeed, diseases.
If just one person decides to get help after suffering for a long time, the stigma-free piece — and this column — will be all worth the while. And if you are reading this, and think you need help, get that help.
There are plenty of people out there ready to assist you.
Just ask the ladies of the Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst.
• Harrison has a new chief of police. Dave Strumolo was officially sworn in March 1 — and there will be a public swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, March 6, at Council Chambers. I hope to have a profile of Strumolo in next week’s newspaper.
But last week, when he was introduced to the public at a meet-and-greet outside Holy Cross Church on Harrison Avenue, it was pretty clear why the police union wanted him, the top scorer on the chief’s exam, to get the position.
He paused to speak with anyone who wanted to chat with him. He took photos with kids and adults alike. There was an indescribable energy in the air. Several told me the change in morale in the HPD is already palpable. If the meet-and-greet was any example, it definitely seems like better days are ahead for the department.
Oh, if the name Strumolo sounds familiar, it’s because Dave is the second Chief Strumolo in our readership territory. Thomas Strumolo, Dave’s cousin, is chief of the Nutley PD.