Daniel Vance - Disabilities

I was surprised seeing the smiling face of Marissa Lachmiller on the front page of a daily newspaper not long ago. She had been our family babysitter for several years in the 1990s. What I didn’t know then was that she had been dealing with major depression and later would try committing suicide. She had what many people call a ‘hidden’ disability.

‘My (bouts with) depression started in the seventh grade, but I didn’t know what it was,’ 23-year-old Lachmiller said in a telephone interview. ‘I didn’t know enough to ask about it, because depression wasn’t something people talked about. I felt sad all the time, was anxious, and felt worthless.’

A National Institutes of Health website reports that a person has major depression when showing for at least two weeks five or more symptoms, which may include feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, dramatic appetite change, sleep difficulties, agitation, and withdrawal from activities. Its exact cause isn’t known. Major depression affects perhaps 18 million Americans annually, and increases a person’s suicide risk.

Lachmiller’s first realization of what was happening internally came in the ninth grade, when she attended a school presentation from a suicide prevention group. She said, ‘I was able to go down this card the group handed out and check off a number of the symptoms of depression I had. I knew I needed help, but my friends were making fun (of the presentation). It was such a serious topic, and they didn’t know how to deal with it. They were joking and laughing, and I didn’t want to come forward and be made fun of.’

Symptoms worsened her freshman year at Bethany Lutheran College. She was away from home and had added schoolwork stress. Then a friend figured things out and took her to a college counselor. The counselor was a person she could trust.

‘There’s still a huge social stigma (about having depression and suicidal thoughts),’ she said. ‘Some people will think it’s all in your head or you are trying to get attention. But it’s an illness like anything else, and it’s all right to ask for help. You don’t have to wait, and you don’t have to be afraid to ask. There’s help out there today.’

Presently, Lachmiller works for a nonprofit organization, Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention. Now she is the one visiting local schools to talk with students.