From the Executive Director
The Mental Health Issue

Chances for Healing in Every Moment

Christine Hanna

My beautiful older sister, Bess — a smart, passionate, popular soccer star — killed herself when she was 17. She took my parents’ gun, drove to a park, and shot herself in the head. The effect on my family was profound. Though I’m generally a warm person, for the next 15 years, I avoided people with big emotions, or people who seemed fragile. For me, they were dangerous, unpredictable, unhelpable. I didn’t want to get too close, for fear of being responsible for them in some way. I limited my range of empathy because I was sure if I went too far, I’d be swallowed whole.

Cover of YES! Issue 87

One day, 15 years later, my friend and colleague Karen came to work, shaken by something. I simply asked what was wrong, and she told me her partner had tried to end her life. We talked for a long time. She shared, I shared. We both healed each other a little that day.

There was another conversation with a stranger at a party a couple of years later. A young woman a lot like my sister, on the precipice. I asked, she shared, I shared. More healing.

Over the years, these and many other connections have helped me understand that I can go down into the depths of empathy and not be weakened or incapacitated by it, not swallowed whole. In fact, I’ve become more whole because of them. I’m touched more deeply by beauty, humor, and suffering. I can feel more of everything — from joy to outrage — and for me, it makes for a more complete life.

YES! Photo by Chris Marion

Bess, left, and Christine

Depression comes in so many forms, and for so many reasons. Dealing with it — my own and others’ — is still hard for me, especially when it touches loved ones whom I care for and rely on the most. But with every act of acknowledgment, each gesture of empathy, each conversation, it gets easier. And in those moments when I have the courage to empathize deeply, I find when I come back up, the air’s a little sweeter.

Being human is hard, but there are chances for healing in every moment. Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, or stress, or you know people who do, I hope this issue of YES! can give you the courage to connect, to peel away a layer or two, and let healing begin.

Christine Hanna