Reducing the Stigma Around Depression, OCD and Anxiety

Family history inspires a gift
Pat Catans

Growing up, sisters Patrice Catan-Alberty and Sharon Kilbane remember their mother coping with depression. That’s one reason the sisters and their families have made a major gift to Cleveland Clinic supporting mental-health research and the work of Donald Malone, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychology.

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Sharing a similar mental-health challenge

Both Patrice, 63, and Sharon’s daughter, Meghan Athey, 28, face similar mental-health challenges, having been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Though the two women share a diagnosis, treatment options have expanded and improved with each generation.

And the family hopes that their gift will help Dr. Malone discover even better therapies for future generations.

Living with an undiagnosed condition

“Back then, there was not a lot they could do,” says Patrice, owner of Catan Fashions wedding salon. “I was born with the same problem my mother had, which manifested after I had my third child.

“I was told that I had postpartum depression, yet I had it for eight years.”

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Eventually, she was diagnosed with OCD and given Prozac, a new drug at that time. It was transformative.

“My symptoms were gone! This proved to me that I had a chemical imbalance, something really no different from having heart disease, diabetes or any other illness,” says Patrice. “My experience made me want to create awareness for other people that it’s OK. You can get help. Your illness has nothing to do with your intellect.”

Meghan also was diagnosed with OCD, along with an anxiety disorder, but at a much younger age than her aunt. Though she recalls having anxiety attacks in first grade, she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 12. By then, however, there were more effective treatments and more treatment options than what her aunt and grandmother had. But, she still had to cope with others’ lack of understanding.

“I was that little girl having a panic attack in class,” she says. “I was a really good student, but teachers didn’t know how to deal with my anxiety.”

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Sisters give to help study mental illness

With their gift, the Catan family hopes to reduce the stigma of mental illness by furthering research and serving as examples of people who manage their disease while leading normal lives.

Research is crucial to making major improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, Dr. Malone says. For instance, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that OCD, a common illness, was properly diagnosed and treated.

“Many families have had a grandmother who never left the house or stayed in bed for days on end,” says Dr. Malone. “Back then, this problem wasn’t recognized as depression or OCD, and there was no effective treatment.”

The gift from the Catan family supports several research projects using neuroimaging to study various psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder and depression. This technology and other new approaches ideally will lead to customized patient care rather than traditional one-size-fits-all treatment, Dr. Malone says.

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