Mike Wallace 1918-2012
Mike Wallace died last Saturday, April 7th at the age of 93.
You may remember him from the CBS show “60 Minutes.”
He was well-known and highly respected in his field,
winning over 20 Emmy Awards for his television news
reporting, among many prestigious awards.
But what I, and many of us in the mental health field,
respect him for is being a mental illness stigma-buster.
Mike Wallace is not as well-known for something that
he also spent much of his life doing: fighting depression.
He had experienced several bouts of mild depression,
which he had always been able to rally from until 1984.
In an article he wrote for Guideposts, he said “I found
myself suddenly struck, then overwhelmed, by something
—an emptiness, a helplessness, an emotional and physical
collapse—I’d never experienced before.”
He had no energy, he had no appetite, he couldn’t sleep,
and no matter what he did, he felt “dead inside.”
Mr. Wallace finally felt driven to seek help and was
admitted to a hospital and evaluated by a psychiatrist.
It was the beginning of the end of the nightmare for him,
as he was finally diagnosed with clinical depression and
started on anti-depressant medication, which he took for
the rest of his life, and referred for psychotherapy.
He recovered and was able to work and live again,
managing some recurrences of depression effectively.
He could have stopped there…
He didn’t have to tell anyone what had happened.
The “official story” given to the media was that
he had been hospitalized for exhaustion.
As a late-night guest on Later with Bob Costas, he said
it occurred to him as he was being interviewed about
his job that the kind of people who might be up watching
television late at night were people like him, who
when the depression was severe, suffered terrible
insomnia and he stayed up late channel-surfing.
It dawned on him that it might help give people hope
to know that depression can be treated and that there
is nothing to be ashamed of if you suffer from it.
…but he didn’t!
So Mr. Wallace took a huge risk in revealing that he
suffered from depression, had tried to commit suicide
in 1986, was taking anti-depressant medication and
going to therapy…and advised people to get help if
they were experiencing symptoms of depression.
He had been told by many people he trusted not
to go public with the information because it would
“be bad for his image.” It could damage his reputation.
The stigma related to mental illness was even worse
for people in the 1990s than it is now.
“Help was out there…”
But he was willing to risk damage to his reputation
to get the word out to millions of viewers that
there was hope for people suffering from depression.
He wrote, “I wanted whoever might be listening and
suffering to understand how low I’d sunk and how I
was getting better every day with treatment.
Help was out there for them too.”
I want to say a personal thank you to this man
I have never met for attempting to break
down barriers for people to access mental
health services when they need them.
For helping to take the shame and stigma out
of suffering from a very common, treatable disorder.
And for being willing to do this at great potential
personal and professional cost to himself.
Thank you, Mr. Wallace.
Rest in peace.
For more information about Mike Wallace,
his career, and a special program being broadcast
on “60 Minutes” on April 15, click here.