The Utah Women and Leadership Project held an event Jan. 30 aimed at encouraging an open conversation about those dealing with depression.
The keynote speaker was Jane Clayson Johnson, a national broadcast journalist and BYU alum who wrote a book called “Silent Souls Weeping” about her struggle with depression and how it affected her loved ones.
”I grew up with the notion that mental illness wasn’t something to be discussed ever,” Johnson said.
Johnson told the audience her depression wasn’t something she ever expected to go through, and that she made a point to be completely honest when she started writing the book.
Johnson said the idea was to become vulnerable as a means to invite others to become more open with their struggles with mental illnesses.
Interviewing over 150 individuals who suffer from some form of mental illness, Johnson said she was surprised by how many of them just wanted to be heard.
“Through the power of these stories is a plea to change our dialogue, to raise the blinds of the windows of a darkened room,” Johnson said.
Knowing that mental illness doesn’t just affect the individual, but their loved ones as well, Johnson spoke about she felt isolated from her family and friends while suffering with depression. However, Johnson said, sharing her story and having others share theirs helped end the isolating effect of mental illness.
“The sense of embarrassment or even shame — attached not only to a mental health diagnosis, but to the medication prescribed and the therapy required for treatment,” Johnson said.
Johnson said many people she met as she conducted interviews for her book told her they didn’t want the people in their personal life to know about their mental health struggles.
Johnson said the personal and cultural stigma against mental health is unhealthy and only perpetuates the problem.
Johnson emphasized that mental illness requires medical attention just like any other bodily disease.
Mental illness is not the result of inadequacy and fighting it alone doesn’t make sense, Johnson said.
”Silence strengthens stigma and shame, stigma and shame lead to isolation and more silence, which aggravates depression and cuts off important sources of support and treatment,” Johnson said.
Reaching out for help can help eliminate the stigma and create a place for those suffering with mental illness to feel accepted, Johnson said, adding that she wants society to approach mental health with an open mind.
By letting people know they are not alone, society can help deter some of the isolating effects of mental illness, Johnson said.