by Jim Boyle
A class on stress, anxiety and depression that touched a nerve in the Elk River community is looking like it will spawn at least one support group and new attempts to reach kids suffering from anxiety during their school day.
The first of four classes led by Cindy Lovelette — two for adults and two for parent-child combos — attracted more than 50 people.
“And those were just the people who had the courage to come,” she said. “If 50-plus people came, I bet you could multiply that number by 10 for the number of people who would have come if they had the strength or more people had known about it.”
The best part about the classes, she said, is people discovered they are far from alone.
“Millions of people suffer from these things, and there is help out there,” she said. “People need to know it.”
Lovelette says the last of her four sessions through District 728 Community Education pointed to an interest on the part of adolescent youth for more support in the local schools. The former parent liaison of more than a decade said she would like to see an after-school program or something during the day.
She has started networking to see what’s possible on this front. One common thread Lovelette sees in schools, particularly middle schools, is many students feel bullied or have been bullied. Some have anxiety before it even starts, and interactions with other youth either trigger anxiety or intensify it.
“With all the millions of dollars spent on bullying, I have concluded we’re never going to stop it,” she said. “I think our efforts need to be as much about empowering our kids, so they have more self-confidence.”
Lovelette’s decision to go hyper-public
Lovelette’s decision to go hyper-public with her lifelong battle with anxiety and the impact she has had on people’s lives to date has blown her away, she said.
Her class that was initially capped at 16 and scheduled for a small room in the Handke Family Center blossomed.
At least 55 signed up for the first session, and the class was moved to the gymnasium within Handke Center to accommodate the outpouring of interest.
Jay Grammond, a program coordinator for District 728 Community Education, has become increasingly interested in having programs on stress, anxiety and depression.
He said programs on stress have gone over well, but he knows people are much more reluctant to talk about anxiety and depression. When Lovelette approached the district about speaking, Grammond jumped at the chance after hearing her talk about her story and vision of the class.
“I was overwhelmed by the community’s response after the story on Cindy was in the Star News,” he said. “I came into work that following Monday morning and the phones were ringing off the hook.
“There is a lot of stress, anxiety and depression out there and I was so glad to see so many people come forward seeking something, whether it was help for themselves or a loved one, or just for information on the topic.”
Lovelette said she just “about died” when she heard how many people were coming to hear of her struggles with the hope of helping themselves or others.
Five years ago, Lovelette could not have done it. Two years ago it would have been a dream, but not likely achievable. Now, she has enough skills and tools to conquer the challenge.
Conquer might be too strong a word, though. The moments leading up to her first talk included the same rush of emotion that in the past has sidelined her from life.
“But I did it,” she said of her first, second, third and now fourth intimate speaking engagement. “It was a baptism by fire, but I did it.”
Aside from everything she has learned about anxiety and the skills she has practiced, it was her audience that got her through that first night.
What struck her as she silently yet violently worked to calm her thoughts, was that all the people who were in the room were there for the same thing she struggled with all these years.
“If I could help one person, I thought to myself this will be worth it,” Lovelette said.
Lovelette plans to meet with Grammond again to decide where to head next.
“Based on the flurry of comments that were received during and after the classes, we were able to help a lot of people, so much so that many people have asked us to start a support group,” Grammond said. “We will talk about options for this idea and for more classes in the future.”
One approach to a support group might be to listen to some self-help DVDs as a group and work together on an accompanying workbook in and outside of the time spent together.
Lovelette said she has to find a date that works, a place and some funds to provide the workbooks and discs to make it available to all who are interested, though.
She is also going to connect with local schools about possibilities for children in the schools.
Meanwhile, Lovelette’s list of schools and institutions calling for her to speak is also growing. She would like to expand her speaking engagements to include work places and other towns.
“I have to pace myself, but there are so many things I want to do,” she said.
Her story and her willingness to be open about it seems to reach people. Lovelette began dealing with anxiety at the age of 12, and she couldn’t even begin to shake it until about five years ago.
That’s after she learned the root of all anxiety is how you think and what you tell yourself. Up to that point she either did her best to fight through her anxieties or she let them get the best of her.
“Your world becomes pretty small,” she said. “Nobody should have to live that way.”
Now Lovelette has learned tools to deal with anxiety and what she does to curb her thoughts when the world around her begins to close in.
People who have attended her classes have since called her and emailed her about how they are working to conquer their own anxieties.
“We all have resilience,” Lovelette says. “We have to find that because we live in a stressful world.”
Lovelette doesn’t profess to be an expert. She admits she does not have a degree in psychology or anything like it. She says, however, she has lived through the disorder, learned how to combat it and now finds herself living to tell about it.
Anxiety develops from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Her experiences coupled with classes she has taken and studies she has done have made it possible for her to step up and volunteer personal information about herself.
Many people whom she came to know during a 12-year stint as a parent liaison at VandenBerge Middle School and Elk River High School have urged her to share her story to help others
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18 percent of the U.S. population), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
They are also highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment, the ADAA states on its website.
It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression, or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Mental illness is defined as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”
Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease, according to The Global Burden of Disease: A Comprehensive Assessment of Mortality and Disability from Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors in 1990 and Projected to 2020 (Geneva, Switzerland;World Health Organization, 1996).
The trouble is often that people choose not to address their disorder. Most won’t even talk about their fears.
“We have got to get rid of the stigma,” she said.
Stress, anxiety and depression speaker
Recommended books: “The Chemistry of Calm” Author: Henry Emmons, M.D. (for anxiety)
“The Chemistry of Joy” Author: Henry Emmons, M.D. (for depression)
“The Instinct to Heal” Author: David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D