State Of Mind Profile: Anne Donahue
VPR's series of special reports on mental health care in Vermont, "State of Mind," includes personal stories of Vermonters who have lived with mental health struggles.
State Representative Anne Donahue serves on the Mental Health Oversight Committee and edits a mental health newsletter in Vermont. Throughout her years in the legislature, she’s been a vocal supporter of patients’ rights. Her struggles with depression informed her desire to speak up for those with mental illness.
Here is her story.
I come to this whole topic as an advocate only because of my own experience. I was somebody who would have said, in the past, "Oh, dealing with people with mental health problems? Um, no." In fact, when I was in law school I had that option in terms of clinical programs. There was a mental health law project and there was a juvenile law project. And I wanted to work with kids.
And it was only when I went through my own experiences. In the mid-1990s I was hospitalized a number of times, including for one stay that was seven weeks, with very severe treatment-resistant major depression. Suicide and the risk of it and thoughts of it were the reason I was in the hospital as frequently as I was in those several years in the 1990s.
It put me face to face with a lot of issues, probably the primary one at the time being stunned by what we now call the lack of parity. That all of a sudden, because I had developed the wrong kind of illness, my insurance wasn't covering more than a fixed number of days.
And, as somebody who had had an advocacy background, as I was coming out of that experience it was the same time that Vermont was addressing a parity bill and I testified about it and that sort of brought me into mental health advocacy.
I think that the most fundamental way, and I think most disenfranchised minority groups have recognized this over time, the most fundamental way to overcome stigma is for people to actually know people who have a mental illness and realize, first of all, they can recover. They can be in ongoing recovery and able to be back in the mainstream of life.
I can be somebody who can say I'm still in recovery. I still need ongoing treatment, as a support. And yet I can be articulate. I can be in a leadership position. That's so critical for people to know. And I made the decision early on that that was really going to be crucial in order to advocate.
I've chosen to stay on medication. And it's not because I think it's the only way or right for everyone. But it's what helped get me out of the worst of it. And, quite frankly, I don't want to gamble with trying to get off it and see what might happen. That's just not a risk I would take. And I also have ongoing therapy because that's sort of a key to staying stable. Obviously, I'm in a position with a lot of stressors and a lot of intensity so I think that's really an important support for me.