Over the weekend, I was so honored to receive the 2014 Ray of Light Award from the Dave Nee Foundation, founded in 2006 in the legal sector to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and promote good mental health. It is a wonderful organization run by some of the biggest hearts in the world of law in memory of their dear colleague and family member and friend Dave Nee, a brilliant individual who struggled silently with depression for many years and took his life in 2005. They presented the award to me at the 6th Annual Gala, which was held at Fordham University’s newly built School of Law at Lincoln Center.
Wynne Kelly, President of the Foundation, said many things that will forever live in my self-esteem file:
What makes Ms. Borchard unique is her uncanny way to deliver the unvarnished truth of fighting a mental health condition, rendering herself incredibly vulnerable, but through wit, humor, and superlative writing, she disarms her readers and not only delivers information, but also provides them with tools to use to better actually comprehend and communicate with those suffering with mental health conditions.
The Foundation has many impressive programs. I was amazed to learn that their program Uncommon Counsel now educates over 40 law schools around the country of the risks law students and attorneys have with regard to depression. Attorneys have the highest rates of depression and suicide of any profession and 40 percent of law students in their third year of school report experiencing symptoms of depression. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than any other occupational group to suffer from depression.
Here is the gist of my Oscar speech:
I am so very honored to receive this amazing award. Since Wynne’s initial letter, I have taken a great interest in your foundation and in the life of Dave Nee, and I think what you have built in his name is nothing short of beautiful. I am so sad for all of his family and friends because based on the video I watched and the comments from others, he was an incredible human being: brilliant, funny, compassionate, wise.
Ever since Robin William’s death, I’ve felt an urgency to tell the truth. I’ve removed all the filters in my writing, which has made it uncomfortable for me, at times, to go to events at my kids’ school or family get-togethers.
But I feel as though we are on the front lines of very real battle and we are losing lives every day to the beast of depression.
I wrote a piece recently for World Suicide Prevention Day and learned these statistics:
- One person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. That means from the time I started talking to the time I stop, our world will have lost eight precious lives.
- The number of suicides exceed the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined each year.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death (globally) for people ages 15 – 29.
- For each adult who died of suicide in 2012, there were over 20 others who made suicide attempts.
Some of the losses include persons who are extraordinarily gifted, like Dave Nee.
In the wake of Robin William’s death, I tried to translate the feeling of suicidal depression for a person who has never experienced depression. The closest thing I could think of was a sneeze. Because you receive a message from your body that is so strong, you don’t question it. You don’t think about your family or assess whether or not this is a good thing to do. All you want to do is get rid of the horrible itch and you know nothing short of sneezing will do it. I guess the analogy hit a chord because the post received 1300 comments. Among them was this one:
For those of you contemplating that sneeze, please consider:
I am the father of a now deceased son. My firstborn. My namesake. Before he was born I had no desire for children. Once he was born, I would tell the world that I did not joy until I saw him toddling through my house.
He sneezed a year ago. His 24th birthday is in a couple of days. Now I add to my statement of knowing joy through him: I did not know agony until his took his life.
I know this urge to sneeze must be a terrible cross. But if not for you own sake, please bear the cross for those that love you, and hope!
From a still deeply mourning father.
It is for that mourning father and for you all who grieve Dave, that I write so honestly about my depression. It is for him and for you that I describe my death thoughts in such detail, which, yes, can be a little uncomfortable in a world that is so terribly false.
It is for him and for you that I’ve built an online support group for depression that has grown in only five months to over 1800 people.
And for this father and for you that I am creating an online community devoted to helping people who live with treatment-resistant depression and chronic mood disorders, called ProjectBeyondBlue.com. We are going to have a “Why Wall,” a collage of pictures of loved ones who have died by suicide. Dave’s picture will be front and center.
Every day on our support group, I see miracles. People right out of inpatient programs, so scared and panicked, not knowing how to put one foot in front of another. Suddenly realizing they are not alone, they try. They tiptoe and then they walk.
For example, just yesterday, a college girl in our group I have grown to admire wrote this:
I was giving some advice to someone today about what my experience was with ECT [electroconvulsive therapy], And it dawned on me. I’m not considering ECT. In fact, I’m in school, I’m dressed and showered. I’ve eaten a meal recently that was healthy.
Am I stressed? Yeah. Am I anxious? Sure. Am I depressed? Depends on the time of day you ask me.
But am I living? Yes, I am. I’m swimming in the stream of life. There was a time when I never thought that would happen again. I just thought I was doomed to permanent brain-fry after an exponential number of failed ECT treatments. That I would be continually be a drain to everyone’s resources to keep me alive.
So even though today was a not so great day, it also was a really good day. In a really weird way.
The hope in those short paragraphs is the same hope that is the essence of this Foundation.
And hope is the only necessary ingredient to save lives.
This Ray of Light Award is especially meaningful for me because my favorite quote is from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Dave’s death is an immense, and very painful crack.
But this Foundation, all the good you have done in his memory, has generated so much light.
I am so blessed to be part of that.
Special thanks to my husband for being my rock, and for my stepdad, who has always loved me as his own daughter.
Watch the video to learn more about Dave Nee and the Foundation or visit the Dave Nee Foundation.