A Question of Access

David and Ellen’s daughter, Devi, graduated from the Skyland Trail adult day treatment program six years ago. Devi, a mother, teacher, artist, and leader in her school and community, had never shared with her parents that she was struggling with depression. Her parents were shocked when their son-in-law called to tell them Devi was in the hospital.

Since completing treatment at Skyland Trail and continuing therapy after returning home, Devi is doing well and is far more open with her family – and her community – about her diagnosis and challenges. She writes a blog and recently wrote a book with her rabbi to help people understand more about mental illness and the importance of getting treatment. Her parents, David and Ellen, are proud of her advocacy.

“Most people don’t understand what mental illness is, even if they have it in their own family,” says Ellen. “When I grew up, nobody said the word ‘cancer.’ If you had to, you might whisper it. But now people talk about cancer and other diseases openly. If people had more education about diseases like depression, they would see that it’s not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. You wouldn’t be ashamed if you had heart disease. It’s the same thing. This is an illness. And it has to be dealt with as an illness.”

“Mental health still needs consciousness raising,” says David. “Today, you’re hearing more stars and celebrities talking about their own illness, which I think is tremendous and helpful in normalizing mental illness and reducing the stigma. And I think what people like Devi are doing in their own communities is incredibly important.”

Says Ellen, “Devi has been very open, so many families come to me and say, ‘Oh my niece, or my cousin, or my friend’s daughter is really in pain.’ I encourage them to take steps to get the person into treatment. Sometimes people think that working more or keeping busy will take care of it. I tell them that life will be so much better if you seek help. And you’ve got to go to a good place.”

David and Ellen say that concerns about the cost of treatment inevitably come up as part of these conversations. And those concerns are not new to them.

“Being at Skyland and talking to other families heightened our awareness of how much of society doesn’t have access to quality care and inspired us to try to create some level of support,” says David. “Up until Devi experienced it, I didn’t understand the extent of the mental health problem. It’s a crisis. Skyland opened our eyes to what can be done and what isnt being done for so many in society.”

“Quality mental health care should not be restricted to those who are financially strong,” he says. “It’s a question of access. If you have cancer or heart disease, your doctor can refer you to a specialist for treatment and support, and ability to pay does not factor into your treatment to the same extent as it does for mental health care.”

“Which is why, when Skyland Trail came to us and said we want to start an Alumni Family scholarship program, that was so attractive to us. Because we want people to be able to go to Skyland if they’re told it’s a good resource.”

David and Ellen hope that by investing in mental health organizations like Skyland Trail, they can help move the needle on raising awareness about mental health and improving access to treatment.

“Devi entered treatment when she was 38, and she was seriously ill,” says David. “Maybe we shouldn’t wait until someone is 38 and in crisis. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could start addressing issues earlier? Educating everyone in the community who can help connect young people to treatment – teachers, faith leaders, parents – is vitally important.”

“Access to quality treatment makes such a difference,” says Ellen. “Skyland Trail was really a turning point for Devi, and we learned so much about mental illness through all of the family programs. Today, the dynamic between all of us as a family is quite different.”

Says David, “I asked Devi a few months ago, ‘Which mental health organization should receive our financial support? Devi said, ‘Skyland.’  Six years after her treatment, I think that says a lot. And we want others to have that same kind of experience.”

This article was published in Journeys Magazine 2021