I think his story is important to tell too because our society often thinks of depression as a women’s disease when six million American men are diagnosed with depression each year. (And I apologize if I leave the guys out sometimes on my blog.)
The summary of Oprah’s interview, found on her website, gave me chills because I’ve been exactly where Phil was…unable to think of anything but suicide for days on end, and hating myself for what that was doing to my family.
Here’s his story, (and their story as a couple):
In 2001, shortly after the birth of their first child, Emme began to notice changes in her husband Phil’s personality. “Right after Toby was born, strange things started to happen,” she says. “Phil was retreating, not vivacious and bubbly. And [he had] outbursts of anger.”
Phil spiraled into a severe depression after developing a debilitating pain that he says tortured him. He discovered later that the pain was caused by prostatitis, the inflammation of the prostate gland located at the end of a male’s urethra.
During this time, Phil says he wouldn’t get out of bed for days on end. “I wouldn’t comb my hair. I wouldn’t shave. I hated myself,” he says. “It’s just the deepest, darkest abyss that anyone could ever imagine.” Phil was prescribed antidepressants, but he says they had little effect.
Afraid for Phil’s well-being, Emme put her career on hold so that she could be there for her husband. “For two and a half years, she stepped out of her life and into my life and it affected everything,” he says. “She was the housekeeper, the breadwinner, the mother and the father during my illness.”
As months turned into years, Phil sank deeper into depression. His thoughts soon turned to suicide. “He started talking about how he was going to kill himself,” Emme says. “It started to happen every week, and then it started happening every hour, practically. Then he would get into descriptive details as to what exactly he was going to do…. I was a woman on the brink of her own disaster–of her own emotional breakdown.”
Phil remembers telling his wife, “I’m going to kill myself,” almost every 15 minutes when he was at his lowest point. “Our family would gather together and they would say to Phil, ‘You can’t say this to Emme every single hour. You’re making her crazy,’” Emme says.
Finally, Phil says he couldn’t take it any longer. One night, he went into his sleeping daughter’s bedroom to say goodbye. Then, he locked himself in the bathroom and tried to kill himself by overdosing on prescription drugs.
Emme found him the next morning, in bed and not moving. “I looked to my side and I saw the note, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’” she says. “I was very angry at Phil for trying to leave us.”
After Phil’s suicide attempt, he was committed to a psychiatric unit for two and half months. While under lockdown, Phil’s safety was the number-one priority. Doctors didn’t let him have access to medication, sharp objects or sheets.
“It was the darkest, deepest, most horrific time I could ever imagine in my life,” Phil says.
Psychotherapy and medication didn’t seem to be helping, so doctors recommended that Phil undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This procedure isn’t like the shock treatments from the ’30s and ’40s, Phil says.
In the book, “Morning Has Broken,” Phil talks about the day he broke free from his crippling depression. Shortly after his ECT treatments, Phil’s younger brother lost his long battle with brain cancer.
“[My brother] came to visit me at the psych ward, he said, ‘Phil, life is for the living and I love you and I promise you’re going to get better,’” he says. “And in fact, I did. When he died, that next morning I woke up and it was the first time in two and a half years that I got out of bed and actually wanted to live.”
Emme says she immediately knew that the man she married was back. “I could see in his eyes,” she says. “When someone is depressed, they go away…. And that next morning, he was back.”
Phil and Emme credit his recovery to a loving family and access to the best treatments. As one of millions who have suffered from depression, Phil says he felt that it was important to tell his story. “Everyone has their own story,” he says. “But if we can talk about it, we can help to initiate change.”