GREENFIELD — “You’re not broken. You’re not crazy. You’re not a burden.”
Tuesday night, before a crowd of 200, Joel Hungate shared words he knows people living with depression need to hear from their loved ones, words he wishes he could have shared with his mother before her death.
The inaugural “Rise Above It,” at Park Chapel Christian Church aimed to help the community better understand the issues of mental health, encourage those battling to get help and spur loved ones to advocate for their family members and friends who are struggling. The one in five Americans who face a mental health diagnosis deserve the community’s support, one expert told the crowd.
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Hungate, a Greenfield native and the eldest son of Lisa Muegge, shared his family’s experience with the loss of his mother, a community organizer well known for founding the Feast of Plenty, an annual event providing free meals and other resources to those in need. While devoting her time to helping others, Muegge quietly struggled. She took her own life Jan. 28, 2016. She was 52.
“Rise Above It” offered a free meal and information about community resources for those who faced that fear of rejection Hungate’s mother battled daily.
Eight people, including politicians, community stakeholders and those who have first-hand experience with mental illness and addiction, spoke about their experiences. Staff members of Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services remained on hand at the close of the event for those who wanted to ask questions or talk.
Hungate, speaking from the same stage where he gave his mother’s eulogy, recalled how major depressive disorder “flipped a switch” in Muegge, transforming her from an outgoing, conversational, self-assured individual to someone suffering extreme anxiety, someone who felt she couldn’t talk about what she was feeling.
“She didn’t want to seek help, because she thought it meant she was crazy,” he said. “She didn’t feel like it was a disease; it felt like a fault in you.”
Hungate recalled talking to Muegge the day before she died. She was feeling better that day, had started to feel hope.
But the next day, the hope was gone. And then, so was she.
“For my family, suicide was unfathomable,” he said. “We didn’t have an idea this was a possibility.”
Hungate implored the community to watch for changes in loved ones’ behavior, to pay attention to their treatments and medications and to be the hope and healing someone desperately needs.
Healing doesn’t always come easy, and not every injury is visible, added Josh Bleill, who took the stage after Hungate.
Bleill, a Greenfield native and the spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts, reflected on how he treated his physical and mental recovery differently after losing his legs in an explosion in 2006 while serving as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.
He was open about his physical recovery at the time, creating a fitness Instagram account and asking for help and advice from trainers and peers at the gym where he trained, he said. Meanwhile, despite receiving a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and severe traumatic brain injury, Bleill didn’t ask questions. His requests for help quietly avoided talk of mental recovery that followed the bombing that took his legs and the lives of two fellow Marines.
He felt his mental responses to the trauma were a weakness, he said. When he thinks back to what felt most crippling during that dark time of his life, he doesn’t think about lost limbs.
He was quick to anger, and anxiety reared its head in unexpected places, he said. He would drive to the grocery store and sit in his car for half an hour before deciding not to go inside, he recalled.
It took him time to realize his mental changes affected him just as much as the physical injuries sustained in the attack.
“I knew my body changed; I had to adapt to the prosthetics,” he said. “It took me longer to realize I had to adapt and talk about the things I went through.”
Bleill encouraged those who attended Tuesday’s event to talk about mental health, to be the light for others who might be struggling in silence.
Feeling like mental illness is a personal fault is just another obstacle to getting help and getting better, Hungate said. He said the definition of “stigma” is a perceived mark of disgrace on a person, and it’s up to the community to decide whether that exists.
“We decide when that stigma ends,” he said. “We have that power.”
Mayor Chuck Fewell
Indiana Sen. Michael Crider
Dr. Ben McAllister
Cpl. Josh Bleill