Helping Herself by Serving Others: MaryAlice’s Journey with Depression

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In the beginning, MaryAlice’s story was not so different from many women in her community.

MaryAlice began her married life at 19, which was young by some standards but normal in her community where many women married young. She and her husband, Bryan, wanted a big family and would eventually have eight kids. 

MaryAlice has dealt with mental health challenges throughout her life and is familiar and comfortable sharing her struggles. During her second pregnancy, she was diagnosed with depression.

She cherishes her family and has been devoted to their care since day one, but after the birth of her sixth child, she knew she was facing a vastly different challenge.

By now, she was accustomed to how her body and mind recovered from giving birth, but those usual steps were failing—and along with it, her mental well-being. When her baby was nine months old, MaryAlice became physically sick and she couldn’t sleep, both of which had a tremendous impact on her mental health. 

At this critical time, MaryAlice also felt like she couldn’t rely on the usual pillars of support. She had no family or friend support, her husband didn’t quite understand her struggle, and her church group didn’t seem interested in helping. 

Bryan is a hard worker, and with a new little one joining the family, his ability to provide seemed more important than ever. MaryAlice pleaded with him to stay at home and help her, but he didn’t feel like he could take the time off. His response dropped her into an even darker state.

Typically, MaryAlice’s church would have been another source of support. Often, it would arrange for its members to support neighbors in times of need, like following births or after deaths in the family. But, MaryAlice hadn’t been approached with a single meal or offer of help after the births of some of her children and felt like she couldn’t turn there this time, either.

Her mental health plummeted, and she began contemplating suicide.

“I was in a dark place,” said MaryAlice. “I had a plan. I had seen it on a TV show and thought that it was a simple way to end everything, and that it would only hurt me.”

At one especially low point, MaryAlice remembers pleading and hoping for any help—any light at the end of what was a very dark tunnel. That was when a resource manager called to talk about an unrelated matter, and MaryAlice shared what was happening. This was right after an old friend she hadn’t spoken with in years happened to reach out through social media. The friend hadn’t been able to stop thinking about MaryAlice and just wanted to know if she was okay. 

These conversations were the start of MaryAlice finding her way back to mental well-being.

The resource worker asked permission to get in touch with Bryan and told him in no uncertain terms something MaryAlice had struggled to put into words: His wife was suicidal, and if he didn’t go home right away, she was going to call the police. 

Bryan left work immediately and took MaryAlice to the ER. Not long afterward, she was on her way to see the mental health professionals at the University of Utah Health Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI).

She began working with a psychiatrist who prescribed a new medication. She also began counseling to help her understand how to navigate mental health challenges, how to speak up when she needs help, and how her physical health impacts her mental wellness.

As she took major steps to improve her mental well-being, MaryAlice also realized she had the power to help others in her neighborhood and congregation. Working together with her church group leadership, MaryAlice provided meals for families who were struggling in some way and baked bread for others who needed extra compassion.

A firm believer in helping herself through serving others, MaryAlice found great joy in these small acts of kindness. “Baking bread is something I can do for others. It’s one of my passions that I do to this day, because people need to feel that someone loves them.”

MaryAlice and Bryan have also made other changes that helped improve her mental health support system. Bryan learned how he could best help and commit to her wellness. They also moved their family to a new neighborhood.

Her new support system was put to a severe test. In 2017, when MaryAlice gave birth to their eighth child. Her mental and physical health once again declined, and the suicidal thoughts returned. On the day of the new baby’s two-week checkup, MaryAlice was back at her lowest point.

“I struggle with mental health on a daily basis, but when I’m sick, I just shut down,” MaryAlice said. “It’s just so hard for me. I had a brand-new baby, and I was practically comatose. I could feed and change my baby and give my kids crackers and juice—that was all I could do.”

She opened up to Bryan, who responded at once by rushing her to a local hospital where they began treatment. MaryAlice had the support she needed. 

The therapy, counseling, and medicine provided by HMHI and other medical facilities helped MaryAlice realize a much better outcome during her health crisis. The comparison between how heavily she struggled earlier and her ability to cope later was extraordinary. 

Together, MaryAlice and Bryan have created code words for when she starts to struggle and have introduced that language to one of their daughters, who deals with mental health conditions, as well. All of their children are learning how to support others and how to let loved ones know that they need support. 

MaryAlice’s story is still not so different from many women in her community. She loves to share her journey, so people understand that it’s okay to seek help when they are struggling with mental health. Her message to everyone struggling with mental health is clear: Keep reaching out, and don’t give up.

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