The first of my three hospitalizations for depression took place was when I was 30; the second when I was 31.
“I only want to talk to you when you’re happy. So let’s not talk again for a while,” a then-close friend told me on the phone after my second hospitalization. I never heard from her again.
I always knew there were strong stigmas attached to mental health, but hearing this sentiment from a close friend magnified my feeling of isolation. Would she have said that to me if I was in the hospital because of a broken leg or diabetes?
I was living on the Upper West Side of New York, where I went to Barnard College for my undergraduate studies and Teachers College at Columbia University for graduate school. Today, I realize that I lived with depression since I was a teenager, attending a Jewish high school in Chicago. After high school, I went to Israel for a year. While there, with little supervision, I slipped into a depression, with bouts of non-stop crying and insomnia. I didn’t know what was going on.
On the outside, things looked great. I have so many pictures of me hanging out with new friends, meeting up with Chicago friends in town, and having fun in the dorms. But pictures can be deceptive. Today, looking at Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, the perception of another person’s life is often far from the reality.
When, in my late 20s, all of my friends were either married, engaged, or dating someone, my sense of loneliness and hopelessness intensified. After my second hospitalization, I decided to move from New York to Los Angeles. I love entertainment and pop culture and was excited at the possibility of television and film casting work. Despite an uptick in my life circumstances, I was still living with severe depression. Within a year, I was back in Chicago living in my parents’ house. At the end of the year, I was hospitalized for a third time.
I decided there had to be a better way and sought out the right therapist and psychiatrist to get on the road to recovery. Now, I was vigilant about taking my medication and going to therapy. I took a job in a law firm and was able to move out of my parents’ house and live on my own again. I started dating my now husband.
Still, I kept my mental health condition a secret. Because of the stigma I faced, I told noone about my depression and hospitalizations other than my husband and a select few others.
Eight years after getting married and ten years into my law firm job, I won a lunch with legendary actress Glenn Close through a charity auction. I knew she was a huge mental health advocate — I decided to tell her my whole story. Speaking through my story with her was incredibly liberating. I realized my story could have an impact on the Jewish community.
I applied for a fellowship, at the time called JCC PresenTense Chicago, and launched my organization, No Shame On U. I slowly started to tell people my story, though I didn’t go public until October of 2014 when I did a news segment for National Depression Screening Day. That led to a cover story about No Shame On U in the Chicago Jewish News. The reaction I received from people after sharing my story was amazing. Support poured out from all corners.
Most importantly, the response showed that the Jewish community was really in need of this work.
Research shows that stigma is one of the key barriers to people seeking mental health treatment. Research also shows that one of the best ways to break the stigma is for people to have contact with individuals living with a mental health condition, such as myself. After keeping it a secret for ten years, I now tell my story often at synagogues, community meetings, Jewish high schools and mental health forums to help be a part of breaking the stigma.
Miriam Ament has a B.A. in American History from Barnard College, Columbia University and an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2016, she earned her Certificate in Jewish Leadership from Spertus Institute and Northwestern University. She serves on the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Faith Communities Task Force, is a member of the JUF’s Young Women’s Board and the JUF’s Health and Human Services Commission. She is the founder of No Shame On U, a non-profit that works to de-stigmatize mental health. She lives in Chicago with her husband, musician David Forman.