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Helping People Cope with Depression: Why I Do What I Do at the Injury Center

Categories: CDC Injury Center, Violence Prevention

Guest Blogger: Helen Singer, MPH

Helen SingerThis spring, after several of my close friends and family reached out to share the news that Mike Wallace, the legendary investigative journalist and “60 Minutes” anchor, had died, I sat down and had a good cry. It was as if I had lost a favorite uncle.

I know that it probably sounds strange that I was so personally affected by the passing of a famous newsman whose life was seemingly very different and removed from mine, but the fact is that Mike Wallace played a significant role in my decision to do what I do at CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Let me try to explain. In 1996, after purposefully stopping the medication that I knew had helped me, I was in the middle of my third—and thankfully last—major struggle with severe and debilitating depression. I had gone to spend the day at my parents’ house where I could basically hide out and not have to keep up the façade of being “OK.”

From my cocoon of misery on their sofa, I heard the phone ring, mom answered, said something typically Southern to the caller like, “Well bless your heart!” and then, “Helen, Mike Wallace is on the phone for you.” Those words turned out to be a lifeline and one of the best gifts I have ever been given.

It seems that my mother had seen Mr. Wallace speaking out about his recovery from depression on TV and had written a letter to him describing my struggle. We had both experienced the desolation and sheer terror of living with major depression. The connection  was strong enough to move Mr. Wallace to pick up his phone in Manhattan and reach out to this young woman in Commerce, Georgia whom he had never met.

I will never forget that when I answered he said, “Helen, this is Mike Wallace. Your mother wrote and told me what you are going through. I have been there myself, and it is hell. Now, why won’t you take your medication?” I said that I hated the idea that I was “damaged goods” who had to take medicine every day just to be “normal.” He acknowledged his own deep sense of shame and helplessness in the throes of depression.  He went on to explain that he had always been someone who refused to even take an aspirin for a headache, but that he would be taking his antidepressant every day for the rest of his life and be grateful that the treatment existed.

Comparing notes on shame and helplessness with Mike Wallace was an almost surreal experience on one hand. On the other hand, it was a very human and comforting connection that really did change my life.

Helen Singer and sonThat gets me back to why I do what I do at DVP. There is so much pain in the world—pain from disease, violence, social inequalities and injustices, and there are no quick fixes or easy answers. We all have to work hard and continuously to create and maintain the conditions that make hope and security—even in the face of adversity—a real possibility for everyone.   

I am health scientist at DVP because it allows me the opportunity to do some of that work. At DVP, we have strong research that shows that building connectedness—at the individual, family, community, and societal level, and encouraging safe, secure, nurturing relationships is protective against violence—suicide and child maltreatment particularly. Regular social contact, strong family attachments, involvement in community activities, access to services, and communication among helping organizations are most important.

On an individual level, it is exactly these types of connections and relationships that led to that phone call from Mike Wallace that gave me back my life. (He actually called me back about six months later to check on me and see how I was doing—amazing!)

The work of DVP is not easy—attempting to understand patterns of violence, risk and protection against such patterns, developing and testing prevention programs, and building bridges between research and practice can be daunting and, frankly, sometimes feels esoteric and quite removed from the impact that we are all so eager to see. However, it is my lived experience that there is real power in the connections we are trying to develop. If we can encourage and sustain these connections at the population level, I believe we really do have a chance to prevent violence and suffering.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. September 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm ET  -   David Singer

    Hey Helen, how incredibly brave and open of you to share your story like this. I became teary-eyed reading your article, both for you, of course, and for all the people I’ve worked with and still do work with. Thank you for sending this to me. Am I allowed to sign off “love, David” on this official site?

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  2. September 28, 2012 at 11:32 am ET  -   Susan Hillis

    This is an absolutely inspiring post. Helen, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful example!!!

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  3. September 29, 2012 at 11:11 am ET  -   Deb Stone

    Helen–Thank you so much for sharing your story!! I applaud your courage and I too am sorry about the passing of Mike Wallace. While I didn’t have such a meaningful connection (wow!), I admired him not just for his work but even more for his coming out about his personal struggles with depression. If more people talked openly I know we’d be even further along in preventing injury and violence along with chronic and infectious diseases. Depression is preventable and treatable!! Thanks for all of your hard work in injury and violence prevention and for doing what you do!

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  4. October 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm ET  -   Yahobahne

    Thank you lady Helen for sharing your story. To add, I had no idea that the late Mr. Wallace was a sufferer of depression. Nonetheless, I can sort of relate to this chemical imbalance. Only a few months ago I checked myself into the medical center to get treatment for what I thought were anxiety attacks. Soon thereafter, it was confirmed. Had I not responded to this drastic change in my body/mind, it could’ve been worse. Because no doubt I was thinking terrible thoughts. Today, eventhough I am a firm believer in Christ Jesus, and his healing, I continue to take my meds. To read your story only solidifies the importance of continuing perscribed meds without carrying “shame in our in our game.” Thank you and keep looking up. Blessings to your ministry.

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  5. October 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm ET  -   Shelley Clifford

    Helen, what a beautiful story of trial and triumph! God certainly has His hands in the details of our lives, and I am amazed that He used Mike Wallace (through your mom) as an instrument in your healing. I am so thankful for all that you have overcome and the beautiful little boy(s) you have brought into the world and shared with me. You are a strong person and are, like Mike Wallace, making a big impact on others. Thank you for your work, your love, and your relationship.

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  6. June 29, 2013 at 11:48 pm ET  -   Curb Your Own Schizophrenia Symptoms | DIY Health Experts

    […] any emotional disease will be criticized and scrutinized and this could lead to them getting worse. Helping them deal with these situations is the best solution to help them […]

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