Darcy Gruttadaro is director of the American Psychiatric Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health. Before taking part in a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion titled “How Can We Reverse the Depression Epidemic?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about celebrities setting an example of openness, and why many people who work in the mental health field have had first-hand experience of mental illness themselves.
Are people becoming more open to talking about depression in their own lives and within their own families?
There is a genetic component to depression for some people. There are environmental issues, life experiences that can contribute or not to whether they develop depression. Willingness to speak openly about depression is still a factor in many peoples’ lives. There’s still this stigma and concern that people will think less of them, think of them as weaker. It’s great to see the younger generation being more willing to talk about conditions like depression. Sara Bareilles has talked about her own depression; Demi Lovato has been very open about having bi-polar disorder and eating disorders. It really helps when people in pop culture and in the public eye come forward and share what they’re experiencing.
In that spirit, my own extended family has had episodes of depression, including suicide. How about you?
Yes, actually, my family has had suicide and depression, and other serious mental health conditions. I think many people who get involved in the mental health movement have first-hand personal experience. At least that’s been my experience of working with people in the field. I think when people are personally touched by mental illness, they have more openness and understanding and a good listening ear to others who also may be experiencing mental illness.
Since we’re in the holiday season, is it true that this is a particularly tough time for people with depression?
It can be a very tough time for people who struggle with depression. Life can be difficult on a day-to-day basis for them, but then when you add on the stress and the anticipation and all the extra activity that comes with the holidays, and it’s a difficult time of year also because of the shorter days. So people who struggle with depression also often struggle with seasonal affective disorder—shorter days, less light. That really impacts their mood.
You’re from the Snow Belt originally. Do you have any seasonal affective reaction to deal with?
No, not that I know of.
You have a legal background. Has the law kept up with what we’ve learned about mental illness in recent years?
One of the ways it has kept up is that we have worked hard to have a law passed that is referred to as the Mental Health Parity Law. So it requires health insurers to provide coverage for mental health care on par or at an equal level as the insurance coverage for other health conditions. That was a significant victory for us, because before that time there were many discriminatory provisions included in insurance when it came to mental health care.