Pioneer Press sportswriter tells his story of depression

With another Minnesota community balking at providing mental health care to young people, its politicians gamely trying to rationalize their rejection as anything but a fear of people who need help, it’s hard to imagine that Minnesota homeowners will ever get the message that it’s their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, and co-workers who can benefit from a less archaic approach to mental illness and mental health.

For sure, it’s become easier for people to talk about providing access to mental health care, too often talk is all it is. Politicians are failing Minnesotans on this issue and failing big.

It’s a testament to the resiliency of people that some of them can navigate the roadblocks and fear that exists and get the help they need.

So Brian Murphy’s story should at least provide inspiration that it’s possible.

The sportswriter and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press is telling his story of his depression, which returned in a big way in December, when he couldn’t get out of bed and had to leave his job for a time.

“I suffered a major depressive episode about December 12th when I was hospitalized for three days,” Murphy told WCCO’s Chad Hartman on Monday.

It wasn’t his first encounter with mental illness. He was diagnosed in the fall of 2006 with mild depression and for 11 years, he had managed it, switching jobs by moving from Michigan to the Twin Cities and getting on medication.

He got married. He had kids. Things were fine.

“Nothing gave me an indication [that depression was growing] except coming back from a Labor Day vacation in Michigan, I felt a little melancholy,” he told Hartman. “I chalked it up to starting the fall grind again and it just never quite went away.”

By late October he had to force himself to get out of bed. Not that anyone would notice. His Pioneer Press columns were quality stuff.

But he lost 10 pounds and he was “pretty dysfunctional and despondent.”

“I was able to hide it from my kids pretty well; it was most difficult on my wife. She knows when I’m not feeling good or not myself and it became a struggle myself, and to shield the kids from what’s going on with dad. At that age, they’re not going to be able to unpack a mental health depression diagnosis for dad. That became as stressful more than anything, that I was failing my family at home.”

Even though he knew what was happening, he was still struggling with asking for help.

“There was a sense that I can grind through this,” he said. But at a regular appointment with his therapist in December, he was told he needed to be in the hospital and he needed to be in the hospital now.

So he entered United Hospital’s psychiatric unit.

“It was almost a relief that somebody made that decision for me; it was scary and disconcerting but it took the edge off in the sense that I don’t have to fight this anymore,” he told WCCO.

“I immediately took stock of my surroundings and I said, ‘This is not the place for me.’ I have great insurance, and a union. but it’s sad the number of people who are just kind of pushing off to the side. And these are people who might end up with a handgun on the street.

“It’s a regimented routine; breakfast comes in the morning, there’s a yoga session, group therapy that most people are tuning out. I was able to meet with a therapist and a nurse. I did shift medication but I also got put in the partial hospitalization program, after three days, for six hours a day five days a week, I went to a group therapy session at United Hospital.”

There were people from all walks of life with him, he said. “We had a six-figure attorney guy, single mother 20 years old, we had a Rhodes Scholar from the Twin Cities. This cuts across everything.”

Murphy realizes that many people won’t understand his story. He knows, for example, he had it all. “Beautiful wife, two great kids, great job; I get all of that,” he said. “I don’t feel it, and if you don’t feel it or sense it and you have no self-esteem, you can’t figure out what I’m going to have for dinner because it’s so overwhelming. What became a sanctuary was just staying in bed.”

There’s nothing more “rock bottom” than being hospitalized for a mental illness, he said. But he says he’s got more tools now for managing his illness.

After returning to the paper part-time in January, he returned to full-time work a week ago.

“If you’ve never been diagnosed or seen a mental health specialist, you should do that,” he said. “Bringing yourself to see a shrink is not simple. Go to your regular doctor and they can refer you.

“You’ve got to figure out what is eating at you but the notion you can power through it by yourself, maybe some people can. I was of the sense that I’m going to trust the medical professionals.”

“I’m not ashamed of anything,” he said.