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WIU Alumnus Speaks About Depression April 15

April 12, 2010

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MACOMB, IL - - R. David Smola, an active and intelligent student at Western Illinois University in the late 1980s, will return to campus Thursday, April 15 to tell about his personal struggle with depression, including an attempted suicide – a hot-button issue on college campuses today – and about now, his good life in remission.

Smola will present "A Depression Survivor's Journey" at 5 p.m. Thursday (April 15) in the Morgan Hall 109 lecture hall. His talk is open free to the public. He will also speak to an abnormal psychology class earlier in the day.

His message is simple, yet difficult for many to accept: "I want to remove the stigma associated with depression."

A 1989 graduate with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in English, Smola recounted his experience with a deep depression, that led to a hospital stay, in his book, "A Waltz Through La La Land: A Depression Survivor's Memoir," published by Kirk House in February.

"I wrote this manuscript when I got out of the hospital," he said. "I wrote it as a cathartic exercise to come to peace with that had happened."

Smola was involved in campus activities as a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity; and as an upperclassman he was inducted into the Order of Omega, a Greek honor society recognizing outstanding leadership and scholarship, and into Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society recognizing superior scholarship, leadership and service.

He had been planning to go on to law school, but instead, after he graduated, he struggled with feeling directionless. His relationship with a girlfriend became dysfunctional, and he vacillated between law school and finding a job.

"All that change…that's when things just spiraled out of control. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. All I did was worry. I couldn't function," he said.

"I'm very stubborn, and there's this proud Italian part of me that says, 'You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps; you can get over it.' But I learned that depression is a mental illness, and it is real. It is a real (illness) that made me get lost in my own neighborhood, where I'd lived for 21 years," Smola said.

Hurting, confused, at a loss for what to do next and how to do anything at all, the intelligent man who seemed well-rounded in academics and extracurricular life finally couldn't take anymore and attempted suicide. He spent more than four months in a mental health facility.

He now knows that his depression was caused by a chemical imbalance of serotonin, and that depressive episodes can be triggered by the kind of stressors that he experienced. Smola also has learned how to identify the symptoms and causes of clinical depression.

"That's the one thing that I want to tell people: The bottom line is, with the help of medication and/or therapy, you can recover from this," Smola said. "I want to show that you could have a horrible episode like I experienced and that I describe in the book, but that you can still live a normal, productive life if you get treatment."

Smola has been a social worker since the first job he took after being released from the hospital, working as a training counselor with developmentally disabled adults. He earned a master's degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago (1994), and he is now a vice president of program operations at Chrysalis Consulting Group in River Forest (IL).

Sponsors for Smola's talk include the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the psychology department, Psi Chi Honors Society, the Organization of Adult Students for Interaction and Support (OASIS) and the ACTIVE Minds group at Western.

For more information, contact Bryce Dexter, CAS Director of Development, telephone (309) 298-1828 or e-mail

(Copy by Alison McGaughey and Bonnie Barker)

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