Editor’s Note: In November, Jon Nelson sent MM+M an email that began: “I am a medical marketing professional who suffers from mental illness. Those words I have kept silent from my work world for the majority of my career.” After hearing his story, MM+M invited Nelson, a former GSW leader who now serves as president, ScriptLift at P\S\L Group, to write about his experiences with the insidious disease — and, in particular, how the medical marketing industry treats individuals afflicted with this illness.

MM+M’s digital publication of Nelson’s column in December sparked a huge volume of conversation, much of it calling for greater empathy and understanding around mental health conditions. Here is a newly written update on his continuing struggle.

What have I learned since the initial publication of this article?

First, the disease continues to be relentless. My 5-out-of-10 mood has taken a dive to a 3-out-of-10. The new medicine I have been on is no longer providing relief; I have been through yet another major depressive episode since the article.

And second, I was not accepted into the clinical trial for a depression treatment.

This is what it’s like to seek help for mental illness. There are so many different options and angles to approach the disease, which results in a high number of “failures” (and in some cases, decades of failures). It seems laughable to keep searching for relief, but it is the only choice.

There was some encouraging news amid the disappointment. The Stability Network reached out to me about potentially becoming what it calls a “stability leader,” somebody who shares inspiring stories of recovery with others in his community and workplace. People who can see a path toward a better future are more likely to be open about their struggles and seek support; they may also decide to share their own stories with others. 

I also learned mental illness is but one of many health-related conditions that prompt others to judge. I had a wonderful former colleague tell me how she endured IVF for years and had multiple miscarriages. It consumed her during that time — and she didn’t utter a word about it to any of her colleagues.

Another colleague told me, “I have cancer. It will kill me one day, but it’s far better than chronic severe depression.” A heroin addict I encountered in a support group meeting told me they would much rather suffer from addiction than go through severe mental illness. 

So many people suffer, or have someone in their family who does.

After my story was published, I met many stellar humans in our work community who also battle debilitating mental illness. I reconnected with past colleagues who suffer. In the wake of these conversations, we started a monthly support group meeting to connect as working professionals with mental illness in common.

There is a large community of us. It’s nice to be in an environment where you can come out of the shadows and be accepted for who you are.

As for the clinical trial, I didn’t get accepted. Why? Because of the stigma.

In this case, it was the stigma associated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It is a natural progression in treatment for me; it could possibly end my misery. Besides, the procedure is quite different from its portrayal in movies.

But to date I haven’t wanted to try it, as it would become yet another label associated with my name. And since I didn’t “fail” ECT, I wasn’t accepted into the trial. Once again I put the stigma over potential relief. It won again. And it’s worth noting: If ECT were an effective tool for treating cancer, I guarantee you it would be widely used and there certainly wouldn’t be a label associated with it.

If even a few of the stigma associated with mental health were eliminated, I can guarantee more people would be alive. More families will have their loved ones around to hug and love. The stigma is so real that some people end their own lives rather than live with others knowing they are sick with mental illness.

Think about that. The standard line after a suicide is “I wish I would have known.” Well, we need to change our thinking so that people who are suffering can feel comfortable discussing that they have a horrific disease they didn’t ask for.

That is how you end a stigma.

Jon Nelson is president, ScriptLift at P\S\L Group.

If you are struggling with your mental health, these organizations can provide support and resources:

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)

MHA (Mental Health America)

AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Read Jon Nelson’s column, “I am a medical marketing professional who suffers from mental illness,” here. Listen to “Mental illness in the medical marketing world,” an episode of the MM+M Podcast featuring Jon Nelson in conversation with MM+M‘s Larry Dobrow, here.