For years, Melissa Edwards suffered severe depression and anxiety stemming from a troubled childhood, family loss, and abuse.
After a suicide attempt at the age of 11 in Jamaica, she moved to Florida and then New York, where she was treated by different psychiatrists and therapists. But, none was able to pull her out of the dark isolated abyss where she struggled with self-hatred and suicidal thoughts.
Her difficulties led to episodes of homelessness, living on park benches, spending nights in shelters, and eventually hospitalization.
“Doctors said I was depressed and gave me different medications,” Edwards said. “Anytime I tried to explain, they would say, ‘I understand,’ before we even had a conversation.”
“They couldn’t hear what I was saying,” she said.
Finally, Edwards found the help she needed at the NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County Partial Hospitalization Program, where a 6-week, full-day treatment setting helps patients engage in individual and group therapy. Patients can be referred to the program after their hospital discharge to help them better transition back to the community. They can also be referred by a primary care or outpatient provider who determines the need for this higher level of care. The program serves about 360 patients per year.
Three other hospitals in the NYC Health + Hospitals system also offer this mental health day treatment program.
When Edwards joined the program, psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Burkholder provided a more accurate diagnosis for her mental health problems and prescribed appropriate medication.
In contrast to previous experiences with therapy, Edwards said NYC Health + Hospitals therapists helped her recognize how her traumatic past could be used to move forward with her life.
“I found people who would listen and understand. I felt like they were taking my pain from me as they were talking to me,” she said.
“There was something inside of me that was lost and could not experience joy or love,” she added. “They made me realize how getting over the past and dealing with it would benefit me more than just putting the bad memories in a box and never talking about it.”
After successfully completing the treatment program, Edwards was encouraged to use her experience and skills to help others and was offered a job as a Peer Counselor.
Since 2013, Edwards has been mentoring and guiding young people, who like her struggle with depression and mental health issues. She is one of 60 Peer Counselors across the NYC Health + Hospitals system who are helping New Yorkers in their path toward recovery from depression and other mental health conditions.
“My message is that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through. The way that you work on your depression is what matters. Don’t let it be the thing that pulls you down,” she said.