Diane Patrick Makes “Strides Against Stigma”

By Ali Fornash

This past weekend, I was invited by Families for Depression Awareness to attend their fundraiser to fuel awareness about depression and other mood disorders. FFDA works relentlessly to educate people about depression: what it is, how it is treated and how to support those around you suffering from this illness. They work tirelessly to try to remove the stigma attached to this diagnosis. As a person who is has publicly written about my past issues with depression and the disordered eating that goes hand in hand with that for me, I was honored to be invited to cover the event and to serve at the organization’s Social Media Ambassador surrounding this event.

The highlight of the Strides against Stigma event was meeting Diane Patrick, Esq., First Lady of Massachusetts. Mrs. Patrick received the organization’s first-ever Distinguished Service in Mental Health Advocacy Award. This award was established to honor an individual who has gone to extraordinary efforts to heighten public awareness of depressive disorders, empower families in need to seek treatment, and fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.  Julie Totten, the organization’s President and Founder, stated “By sharing her story, Mrs. Patrick has inspired many to recognize the symptoms of depression within themselves and seek help. We are honored by Mrs. Patrick’s acceptance of FFDA’s award and participation in Strides Against Stigma.”

When accepting this award Mrs. Patrick made a brief but inspiring speech about her battle with depression and being forced to address it publicly. In addition to being the First Lady of Massachusetts, Diane Patrick is also a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP and she actively serves the community by supporting issues including domestic violence prevention, education, and the arts. She began the speech talking about how it is interesting to be recognized for something that you didn’t work hard for or didn’t actually want to publicly speak about. When she is recognized for her work as a lawyer or as a community advocate it feels good because she has worked hard in her practice and her advocacy. But, to be recognized as a leader in removing the stigma associated with mental illness is a strange feeling. She never intended to share her battle with depression with the world, until she had no other choice…

Shortly after her husband Deval Patrick was sworn in as Governor of the State of Massachusetts, Diane suffered a really bad bout of depression. She knew that she needed to take a break and get well.  The problem was: How would she tell her clients and colleagues about her hiatus? What would they think? Would they judge her? Would she loose clients? What about the populations she advocates for? How would they suffer? What would they think of her?  How would this affect Deval? What would the media say about her family? What would the people of Massachusetts think?  After speaking with her husband, they came to the conclusion that there were no other options other than her taking a break, getting help and getting better. That was it. People would react and think about Diane as they would and there wasn’t much that neither she nor Deval could do about that. They did know one thing. Governor Patrick would have to address the media and the people of Massachusetts as soon as possible, before someone got ahold of the story. The very next morning that is exactly what he did.

Then something unexpected happened. The Patrick’s were not met with heaps criticism (thought there was some) but an abundance of support.  They received letters, e-mails, messages and gifts from people wishing Diane a speedy recovery. Mrs. Patrick spoke about e-mails and letters she got from people suffering from depression saying that her courage and openness was an inspiration to them. She got messages from people saying that she gave them then push they needed to talk to a family member or a friend that may be suffering from depression. She keeps every one of these letters, emails and messages in a box in her home office now, five years later, to reflect on them when she need to find strength.

Regardless of your political views, the Patirck’s have done something really important from the standpoint of any of those who suffer from a mental illness, loves someone who does or works to serve those who do (I personally fall into all three of those categories).  They have helped “normalize” this disease and proved that it doesn’t discriminate. They showed the world that is it nothing to be ashamed of and that getting help is immensely important.  I was honored to get to meet Mrs. Patrick and so thankful that she shared her story with us.


One Response to Diane Patrick Makes “Strides Against Stigma”

  1. […] light of what Ali Fornash wrote today involving Massachusetts’s First Lady Diane Patrick and her public battle with depression, it […]

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