Chiara de Blasio Honored for Sharing Story of Addiction, Depression

The first daughter of New York City continues to go public with her depression and addiction story, and this week she was recognized for inspiring hope in other young people facing mental health problems.

Chiara de Blasio, the 19-year-old daughter of Mayor Bill de Blasio, had startled the public with a Christmas Eve video revealing her ongoing treatment for crippling depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol. It was released through her father’s campaign e-mail before he took office and she seemed almost sunny in her sobriety, urging anyone suffering from the medical disease of addiction or depression to ask for help and treatment.

On Tuesday, her story continued. First, Chiara was recognized by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a role model for children and young adults. At a gathering of 1,000 mental health professionals marking National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius presented the award to Chiara for sharing her story.

The same day a gripping online essay Chiara wrote about her nascent recovery was posted at the online women’s magazine It remained hopeful, yet pulled no punches.

Waking Up Anxious

“My current daily routine begins with waking up anxious, my chest pinched tight as I try to shake the sleep off of my heavy eyelids,” she wrote. “The first moments of my day remind me where I came from, as every 24 hours, I am brought back to the 18 years that preceded this one. It is remarkable how I’ve learned to change my natural state, as every morning I awaken a nervous and depressed wreck, before slowly putting myself back together again. Someone once described this phenomenon perfectly: ‘Every morning, I wake up a dry drunk, and I have to become a sober person.’ ”

Chiara has said that she was unprepared emotionally for moving across the country to attend college in California.  Away from her parents and younger brother Dante, she felt increasing anxious and depressed.

And she is hardly alone in that struggle. The number of college students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern, according to research published in June 2013 by the American Psychological Association. Here are some of the findings of that research:

  • Ninety-five percent of college counseling center directors reported students with major psychological problems as an increasing concern, according to a survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.
  •  Seventy percent of directors believe that the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus has increased in the last year.
  • Anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent).
  • On average, 24.5 percent of clients were taking psychotropic medications. However, 19 percent of directors report the availability of psychiatric services on their campus is inadequate.
  • Directors report that 21 percent of counseling center students present with severe mental health concerns, while another 40 percent present with mild mental health concerns.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 3 million Americans are in need of substance abuse treatment, a fact shared by Chiara in her YouTube video. She urged those thinking they may need help to get it, offering as a starting point.

“Sharing your story is a big part of owning it and reducing shame around it,”  said Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, director of young adult programs at Promises, an Elements Behavioral Health center in Malibu. She also said the unveiling of mental illness is part of the therapy that must accompany medication treatment.

“I look at medications as windshield wipers,” she said. “They don’t stop the rain — they just clear the windshield so you can see where you need and want to go.”

Genetic Component to Depression

How Chiara found her compass to seek therapeutic treatment remains unclear, but she blogged that because of her charmed upbringing, she concluded her depression was likely genetic.

“I had an amazing, unconditionally loving and unbroken family,” she wrote. “I went to good schools. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood. So why, then, did I always feel empty? I was surrounded by love, but I always felt less-than, out-of-place, restless, irritable and discontent. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that I was simply ungrateful. Yes, I was. But a lack of gratitude wasn’t my only problem. I was the problem. I was not born a happy person.”

That hereditary link was addressed Tuesday by her father at the Maryland award ceremony outside Washington, D.C. The mayor introduced Chiara and acknowledged a family history involving depression, alcoholism and suicide.

“In my own life, in my own family, we faced these demons before,” said Mayor de Blasio, according to the New York Times coverage. “My own father was an alcoholic. He could not, unfortunately, tragically, find his way to this kind of help, this kind of recovery. But his granddaughter could. And she did.”

During the ceremony, The Times reported, Chiara told the audience that she now hopes to work in a field helping others with mental illness. A year ago, she said, she would not have been able to imagine “standing before you today as a sober and healthy young woman.”

In her startling revelations of her history of depression and addiction in the Dec. 24, 2013, YouTube video, Chiara said she’d suffered from depression since adolescence, and that her parents had tried to support her. In a more specific stretch, Chiara admitted that she kidded herself while attending college in California, thinking if she just drank, or just smoked weed — not both at one time — she didn’t have a substance problem. She never specified what situation or triggering incident, if any, sent her for help.

But this week, she was met with a standing ovation, the New York Daily News reported. Said Chiara: “One year ago, I was lost, confused and overpowered by depression, anxiety, addiction and fear. One year ago, life didn’t seem worthwhile. One year later, here I am and that is nothing other than a miracle.”

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