MA First Lady Diane Patrick Speaks Out On Her Depression

In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn where Diane Patrick grew up, in her family of "proud West Indians," mental illness was "unspeakable" and depression was something "only wealthy people allowed themselves to have." If you had depression, you were either "truly crazy" or a "self-focused, narcissistic type" who went to "an overpaid, enabling and indulgent therapist."

Fast forward to 2007. Diane's husband, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, stood before a gaggle of cameras and microphones and told the world that Diane was suffering from depression and would be taking some time out. She was terrified of how people would react, worried that she'd never hold her head high again.

But being open about her condition ended up bringing her an outpouring of compassion — and she spoke about that outpouring, fittingly enough, at a recent dinner held by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. The center has now posted her speech in its entirety in the video above. In case you don't have the 28 minutes to watch — and that would be too bad, because it's a rare treat to watch such an obviously intelligent, authentic woman speak from the halls of power about her personal experiences with mental illness — here are five things that struck me:

1. Remember all those gaffes in the beginning of the first Patrick term, the expensive curtains and Cadillac? The stress of those early days in power seemed to help push Diane into depression.

2. A lawyer, Diane had been concerned about how clients and colleagues would react to news of her depression. In fact, she said, some ended up coming into her office on the QT and telling her "they knew exactly what I was going through because they were, too."

3. William Styron and William James, among others, have tried to capture how terrible depression feels in their writing, Diane noted; "In my words, it's hell, and it hurts in a way that's not easy to describe." You "wake up every day dreading the day ahead."

Diane Patrick with her husband, MA governor Deval Patrick
Diane Patrick with her husband, MA governor Deval Patrick

4. Diane had recovered from depression once before, with the help of a good therapist. But it came back in 2007, with those new stressors: She had no experience being a public person, she said, and seeing herself and her husband depicted unrecognizably in the media. She resisted seeking help because she felt so in the public eye, but then she simply collapsed.

5. She was treated with "enormous compassion," and that compassion helped her heal from "a very public fall." Now, wherever she goes she's met with stories of depression. And she shares her message that "No one should have to suffer this kind of pain when it is treatable. If you are, say something and get help."

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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