My grandmother committed suicide on my father's 18th birthday.

She stood there in the kitchen with my dad, and right after he blew out the candles on the birthday cake that she had baked him, she walked across the room, opened the window, jumped out, and plunged to her death. 

Obviously, she had untreated mental illness, likely depression, or bipolar disorder. 

Kate Spade tragically hung her self in her Park Avenue apartment. One of the most successful fashion designers of all time, she had a net worth of over $150 million. She was successful and accomplished beyond most of our wildest dreams. But that didn't matter. She left behind a husband and a 13 -year-old daughter. 

Obviously, Kate Spade had mental illness: likely depression, or bipolar disorder.

Back to my dad: As you can imagine, that incident had a profound effect on him, one that he's never really recovered from. My dad has chronic bipolar disorder. He has been in and out of psych wards for the last thirty years. He has attempted suicide twice. 

Fortunately, my dad has been treated for his mental illness, and he is still with us. Today, my 3-year-old son Seth delights in visiting Grandpa Peter on a monthly basis, and my dad is most certainly equally delighted. 

Since I've always been concerned about the hereditary aspects of mental illness, I've been proactive about seeing therapists for all of my life. My longterm therapist Judy was at my wedding! My current therapist Kelly I met through my new job. Of course, like anyone else, I've had periods of sadness, even depression. But I've been fortunate. 

Mental illness doesn't discriminate: Kate Spade was wealthy, and my grandmother was poor. It impacts most, if not all of us, through our friends and family. Yet, unlike with physical illness, there is still a stigma to mental illness- a stigma so strong, that people like my grandmother and Kate Spade don't get the help they need. 

There is an enormous business imperative to destigmatizing depression: 

  • Depression is a leading cause of lost U.S. productivity, with an annual cost of $44 billion to employers, according to the Depression Center at the University of Michigan. 
  • Employers are losing 27 work days per depressed worker, with two-thirds coming from "presenteeism"--when workers are present, but less productive.
  • Treating depression saves employers $2,000 annually per employee through improved health and productivity, according to the Center of Workplace Mental Health
  • Entrepreneurs are particularly at risk: 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness and about one-third of entrepreneurs struggle with 2 or more mental illnesses
  • Mental illness is estimated to result in $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

But more important, we have a moral imperative to destigmatize depression and mental illness: 

  • People with untreated depression die, on average, 25 years sooner.
  • In developed countries with well-organized health care systems, between 44%-70% of patients with depression do not receive treatment in any given year.
  • 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organization(WHO).
  • Lifetime risk of suicide among patients with untreated depression ranges from 2.2% to 15%.

People are literally dying because they don't feel safe getting the help they need, because of the stigma attached to depression and mental illness. My passion for helping people with mental health challenges recently led me to taking on the CEO role at UMA Health, an online mental health and coaching marketplace that connects people with providers to quickly get them the help they need. 

But I need a lot of help, if we're going to #DestigmatizeDepression. 

We need the world to know that it's ok to seek help when you're feeling depressed. More than ok: it's necessary.

Please share this article with the hashtag #DestigmatizeDepression, and feel free to note the person or people in your life you care about in your post.

For my dad. For Kate Spade's family. For all of you. For all of us: Let's #DestigmatizeDepression together. 

Published on: Jun 6, 2018