Kicking the Stigma Out of Depression
Kathryn Goetzke is the founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education for Depression and is on a mission to educate the public about the stigma of depression.
BY: Corine Gatti
Sunflowers dressed a local market to welcome the fall season. You can’t deny it. These beauties bring a smile to your face and even a jolt to your step. The flower also symbolizes hope, happiness and shedding light on the dark side of depression. Kathryn Goetzke, age 40, is an entrepreneur and founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education for Depression, or iFred. Goetzke is on a mission to shake out the misconceptions and educate the public that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and like the representation of the sunflower, there is a bright future beyond depression.
Besides using a positive marketing campaign to counteract the negative impact depression, Goetzke is encouraging companies and donors to plant sunflower seeds to “eradicate the stigma of depression” and has become the first person that launched a Cause Marketing Campaign for depression with her launch of Mood-lites currently sold at Lowes nationwide, according to her website.
Why does the sunflower appeal to you?
Humans have a 100 percent positive reaction to flowers and both men and women love sunflowers. They create a greener planet by planting them. There are so many positives in using sunflowers as a symbol. Yellow is associated with happiness, hope and joy. Right now the basic image of depression is associated with someone with their head in the hands, alone in a corner, and in a dark place, which is focusing on a depressive episode. I equate it to the experience with Pavlov’s dogs where he could get the dog to salivate at the ring of a bell (i.e. a positive association). We need to do that for depression. Right now a hopeless photo and associate it with the disease. If we can replace that photo with a positive one, like the sunflower, the initial feeling in the body associated with the word becomes one of hope.
How can we change the stigma of depression?
For them [researchers] to understand a small part of 300 of those 100 billion neurons, it took 20 years. It’s just fascinating what we can learn from the brain if we are open to exploring it. The sunflowers aren’t going to eradicate the stigma, but they’re going to open the conversation in a positive way as opposed to a negative way. As we talk about their experiences with depression, and how they have been able to persevere--that ultimately is going to change the stigma. The sunflower and Fields for Hope are a door to get us there.
Why are you so personally passionate about this issue?
I lost my dad to suicide when I was 19 years old and it was incredibly traumatic for me. I developed PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder]. I was really close to him and I knew that something throughout life he had a chemical imbalance as things would upset him that didn’t upset others, but nobody ever talked about what or how to fix it. His depression manifested into anger, as can be common in men. He was in the hospital before he passed and I worked with him and his doctors on understanding his anger. Unfortunately when [I] started understanding his anger, and how it affected others, it was almost too late. He felt as he had done too much damage, obviously not the case for his family. In those final days with him I believe he gave me the secret. We talked about how he was never allowed to show emotions when he was a little kid, and at a young age was asked to care for the family and stop crying when his dad died when he was only 11. He stuffed all those emotions down, and those feelings eventually had to come out as projected anger.
What is even sadder to me is that he wasn’t totally conscious of his anger. When an event triggers anger, the event passes information to the amygdale of the brain, which then goes directly to the limbic system (where emotions are kept) as opposed to the cortex (our rational selves). Since a fight or flight has been activated, a rush of hormones are released that cause emotional alarm, and a surge of energy is released and the person is not necessarily conscious of their actions. Imagine being told as a child you can’t mourn the loss of your parent and then holding that pain in, only to have it escape in ways that are scary to others, just creating more fear, anxiety, and pain. And then ultimately to have it destroy the very thing you tried so hard to create?
What has been the feedback from people about your organization?
When I initially talked to people about my new for profit company, the Mood-factory, was donating a portion of proceeds to a nonprofit for depression you could see anxiety and panic. When I refused to react with anxiety and panic, they slowly exhaled and it Then it became a conversation about ‘Oh my brother’, ‘Oh my uncle’ Once people open up, they give me nothing but love and acceptance for making such a bold move.
Religion and depression
The reason that Beliefnet is so important to me personally is that I lost a big attachment to my faith and did that because my father committed suicide. A lot of religions renounce the person when that happens. I couldn’t accept that because I can see the biology in the brain and depression. It took a long time to get over my anger towards religion for their judgment of my father when I knew so much of it was biological. As I grew older, I found that I wanted the community, support, and serenity faith brought me as a child in Youth Group. So I stopped condemning faith, accepted all for their limitations and lack of perfection, and found one that works for me. I believe that faith is such an integral part of my overall healing and dealing with depression. Even when my brain tells me the world is ending, I am horribly deficient, and the pain is too much to bear, I get grounded and connect to spirit for guidance. That, along with therapy, medication, yoga, exercise, eating right, abstaining from alcohol, advocating for others, meditation, balance, and surrounding myself with friends and family I can openly discuss my moods and feelings is what keeps me alive today. I also believe that there is a big misconception that depression is a disconnection from spirit. So it’s so important to me to educate people that it may be a part of it, but it’s also a medical part of it and a biological part of it as well.