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Depression survivor launches a lifeline; Magazine is labour of love aimed at people with mood disorders Rebecca DiFilippo has overcome illness and personal tragedy
Robin Harvey. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: May 30, 2005. pg. E.06

Calling Rebecca DiFilippo a survivor is an understatement.

In one decade she lost her marriage, the support of her extended family, her business and, most heartbreaking, the man she had built a life with for 12 years.

Though his death was unexpected, it came after years of trying to cope with the fallout from an accident that had left him blind, brain-damaged and unable to walk.

As the pressure increased on her fragile family, DiFilippo's young daughter started to crack under the strain.

For seven years, DiFilippo soldiered on through all these tragedies, but there was one challenge she could not withstand. When major clinical depression swept her away, 11 months passed before she thought she would ever get her life back.

"That was the worst thing. I just didn't understand what was happening to me," the 47-year-old Mississauga resident says of the numbness and darkness that overwhelmed her. "It got to the point where I started to ... sit alone staring at the walls. I was afraid to talk to people. I was awash in all sorts of negative thoughts. Nothing was right with my life. I just couldn't cope."

Today, she proudly proffers "the good that came from all the tragedy" - a magazine she hopes will spare others the ignorance and despair that almost did her in. Moods magazine has so far published eight issues, with 15,000 copies distributed through subscriptions, hospitals, and Chapters and Indigo bookstores.

DiFilippo says the purpose of what she calls a labour of love is simple to make other people with mood disorders aware that they don't have to suffer alone.

When she finally realized she needed help and that there was a name for what she was going through, she had to wait three months to get into day patient hospital treatment.

"They had a fabulous program," she says. "They educated me and told me what depression was. I didn't realized how far back it was that I had been depressed."

While in treatment, she was struck by the wide array of people with mood disorders. They were well-off and of modest means, of all cultures and ages, men and women. Most, like her, had suffered for years before finally getting a diagnosis and treatment.

"If I had only known how to get help I could've avoided so much of what happened," she says. "I could have avoided a state where I could not cope with my husband. I would not have let the business go downhill. And I would have been able to help my daughter more when she became depressed."

It took two years, but gradually DiFilippo got back into the rhythm of normal life. With medication and the support of "amazing, caring and special" nursing staff, she found her footing.

"You have to be a special kind of person to deal with anyone who has a mental illness or addiction," she says.

She was also inspired by the courage of the patients she saw recovering.

"I heard all these stories of people not having family support," she says. "They'd say, 'They all think I'm lazy' or 'They don't believe that I am sick.' People are ignorant about depression and I knew we needed some educational venue."

The courage, caring and commitment she encountered while in treatment inspired DiFilippo's vision for the magazine. It gave her the drive to push for a venture many people said would never succeed.

DiFillipo needed nine months to get the magazine's high-profile advisory board on side. Today they include Ontario Lieutenant- Governor James Bartleman, and mental health advocate and former federal finance minister Michael Wilson. DiFilippo spent weeks going from doctor to doctor to get their input and then approached patient groups and community activists.

"Everybody supported it,but nobody wanted to be involved financially," she says. "So I thought, 'Build it and they will come.'"

The first prototype cost $37 an issue and she produced them at home on her desktop computers in batches of 10. Now she gets ad revenue from major pharmaceutical firms and other large corporations.

However, she still says the publication is running on a shoestring budget and that more advertising and subscriptions are needed.

DiFilippo says she keeps the magazine short, simple and to the point so it can be a resource for people who have trouble reaching out for help.

It has quizzes and practical advice on pertinent issues such as diet to manage moods. Moods has tackled the topic of addiction and mood disorders as well as the legal rights of the mentally ill.

Former NHL player Ron Ellis writes a column and there are regular features on research, drugs and new types of treatment for mood disorders.

There is also a series on cognitive behavior therapy - the most effective type of therapy for some people with mood disorders.

But the best articles, according to DiFilippo, are the stories of survivors like herself.

"Getting people to tell their stories means so much for others who are having trouble," she says. "They need to know recovery is possible."

This past year, DiFilippo teamed up with several mental health groups to create a series of workshops called Changing Perceptions.

The program's goal is to educate people in the workplace about mental illness and to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the Mood Disorders Association.

For information about the Changing Perceptions program, subscriptions to Moods magazine, ads or editorial contributions, email or visit Moods Magazine. You can also contact DiFilippo at 905-897-7793.
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