NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mental health is extremely personal, and not something many people open up about, but every year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness.

Talking about the struggles and journeys people go through can help open doors and break the stigma around it.

That’s exactly what our CBS2 anchor Cindy Hsu is doing.

Dana Tyler sat down with Cindy to talk about her mental health journey. She gets personal about what she’s gone through, how she found help, and how she’s living differently now.

A warning: Tyler and Hsu talk about some sensitive topics involving mental health and suicide. We hope Cindy sharing her story can help others know they are not alone.

Dana: You have decided to talk about something very personal, and the timing is no coincidence.  First let’s just talk about the timing in perspective of what we’re all going through.

Cindy: Well, [May was] Mental Health Awareness month, and also what we’ve all been through for the last year and a half with COVID and everyone feeling vulnerable and isolated, so I felt this was a good time to share my story.

Dana: Your story – a lot of people wouldn’t have the courage to do this, but you feel it’s important. And we’re going to go back a few years, which tells us one thing: Having a story dealing with mental illness, depression, anxiety, whatever you want to call it, comes anytime, to anybody. It doesn’t pick a season. So explain how you led into it, and what made you realize there was a problem?

Cindy: I didn’t really. Well, it was in 2015, and I think the first sign to me was having trouble doing my regular job, everyday reporting, going out into the field. It’s very fast paced – my mind was moving slower. It was just harder to do just the simple job I’d been doing for more than 20 years. And then I remember one story, a simple story, but my heart started beating so hard in the truck, in the news truck, that I told my camera person Mike Muskopf – I said I have to go to the emergency room. And he took me immediately to the emergency room, and they did all sorts of tests, breathing, and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong other than high anxiety – which was kind of frustrating because you feel like you don’t know what’s wrong.

There was really nothing to do about it. I wasn’t told there was anything to help with that, or what caused it, other than, I don’t know, sometimes I feel the stress of our job, and the content of our job – murders, talking to children who’ve lost family, just anything – it gets to you after many years. And I just think one of the things that was making my heart race.

Web Extra: Dr. Donald E. Grant, Jr. Discusses Ways To Help Break The Stigma:

Dana: The pressures of the job, the story – they always – we feel what is happening to the people we interview. But there’s a time pressure, and a time management to get these stories on everyday which includes the interviewing, and the writing, and the editing, and whatever challenges there are that – and, I guess, in our heads, approval – be it a boss, be it the audience, be it yourself. You don’t want to let down your photographer. How much too was that part of the pressure of “Can I get this done? Can I get this done?”

Cindy: I think it all whirls into one big tornado, and what happened was I learned that I was in depression, I had depression.  The thing I learned is that it’s not one thing that causes it. It’s like a perfect storm of many, many things, and it’s different for every person.

Dana: When you went to work that day, the day before, the week before, what were you feeling like then? I mean, it wasn’t a light switch?

Cindy: No, no, looking back now I was just anxious, maybe not looking forward. You know me, Dana, we’ve known each other for a million years. I’m, like, the happy person at work.

Dana: Always.

Cindy: So, to not feel positive, and just to feel very different than you normally do. That was one thing. But it wasn’t so much that I felt like, oh, I need to get help. I never experienced feeling like this. But I knew nothing about it, so you just keep pushing on, and pushing on, doing your job and being a mother, try to keep your life together.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

Dana: Did you think asking for help was, like, no!

Cindy: You know I didn’t even consider it, because, first of all, I didn’t know I was suffering from depression. I had no idea, and it wasn’t until… it was a process, you know, from the emergency room to I think several weeks later, just continuing to do your job, but anxious inside, but trying not to show it.

Dana: Were you able to do that? I have to say, I don’t remember, but you do isolate yourself at work, if you want to. So there, your co-workers, your teenage daughter, how did you deal with that there’s a fake face you’re putting on?  Or crying, when you can run somewhere private?

Cindy: I think it’s just dealing with it by yourself, I have to say, can be a cultural thing as well. You know, coming from an Asian family, we don’t talk about things like this. You don’t sit there and say “I’m not feeling well, I feel down.” It’s more like you don’t want to be a burden to anybody, so you just kind of keep it inside. My daughter was 11 years old, so she and I of course aren’t going to talk about it. I’m not going to share with my child what I’m going through.

But what happened was, I believe, weeks after that first visit in the emergency room, I just kept going back to work and then one day, one of my colleagues, she said “Are you OK?” And it must have shown on my face, you keep trying to hide it. I’m pretty good at it. I’m pretty good at putting on the happy face. But I guess she saw, and she said, “Can I talk to you in the hallway?” And went to the hallway and she said, “Are you OK?” I was like, “No,” and that was the first time I actually let down the wall. And that’s when she said “Do you need to take some time off?” And I said yes.

And I left work, and I left work for months, and no one knew why. After that I asked my mom to come. I’m a single mom, so it’s just me and Rosie, and I started feeling like I was struggling at home as well, not being the good mom that I normally am. You know, wanting to go home and just go to sleep, and pull the shades down, get in bed.

Dana: Stay there –

Cindy: Yeah.

Dana: 24/7, if you could.

Cindy: Exactly. So she came to stay with me, and still we didn’t, what it was, we still weren’t open about, talking about it. It’s just that I needed a break from work, I wasn’t feeling that well, and then I just kept getting worse.

Bottom line, I attempted suicide weeks after I had left work.

Dana: Were you by yourself?

Cindy: I was by myself.

My daughter was away at camp, my mother was at a museum, so I knew I was by myself, and I attempted. And the hope was I wouldn’t wake up.

My mother found me and I was… I have no memory of her finding me or anything like that. My first memory is waking up in the emergency room and realizing I wasn’t dead.

Web Extra: Dr. Christine Yu Moutier Discusses Suicide Warning Signs:

Dana: Were you relieved, were you sad, confused?

Cindy: I was confused, probably embarrassed. Because it’s something I hadn’t talked to with family.

And then stayed in the emergency room, to come back to life, went to a hospital to physically get better, and then I ended up going to a psychiatric hospital and that’s where I really found out the help I needed. They have psychiatrists and group meetings, where you’re with other people who have suffered the same issues you suffer from, and you can talk openly.

I can’t tell you how much it helped to have group meetings, where you’re sitting next to people who say “I know how that feels.”


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

Dana: Because when you think you were alone throughout this, even the little bits of information you might have given, but you’re giving that to people, as much as they can have compassion and empathy, do they really know? And whether or not they do, “Nobody understands me, and I’m just going to soldier through this.”

What was it about sitting next to a person who is saying “Hello, my name is, and I have x, y or z? How did that make you feel?”

Cindy: Made me feel better, made me feel like you’re not alone. There’s this whole group of people who are going through some mental health issue, whether it’s depression, or whatever the issue is. Most of them had attempted suicide as well. It’s just a safe place, it’s  a safe place that you feel like you’re not judged, and you can open up, and you’re in a place where you can get help.

What happens with depression, for me, it’s like a black cloud takes over your brain, and it tells you that the world would be better without you. And for me, it told me my daughter would be better living life with my brother, who has a wife and three kids, and a more traditional family, versus just me and Rosie. That’s what depression does. It kind of warps what you’re thinking, and it really makes you believe that if you are gone it will be better for the people you love. So that’s what it felt like.

Dana: Did you feel that, I know that you felt it would be better, that she would have a  hole in her heart? And the pain, did you not think you were  worth it? Your life was worth it to her. How did you reconcile the pain that she would live with?

Cindy: I think the power of depression, tells you adamantly your daughter will better off, so yes, you think there will be a little pain, obviously, but you’re not thinking straight, so you’re thinking my child will have a better life without this messed up mom who has depression and can’t climb out of the dark hole, that’s what it feels like you’re in a dark hole.

Dana: What about, I’m wondering, we’re on TV, we’re telling stories of all ranges, but just from the sight of it, we’re there, our faces. The presentation is important so we get the story. In a sense you can hide behind that, but obviously that gave way, did that play into it, the responsibilities of your job, or failing, or becoming transparent?

Cindy: I think part of it is we’re in a very competitive business, and I think I always had in the back of my mind the fear of losing my job if I wasn’t at 100%. And if I lose my job, I can not take care of my child. And then everything falls apart.

And that’s what was happening. It’s a fear, which I think is the depression that creates this fear in the back of your head about everything falling to pieces. So that’s the way I think the pressure of work connected.

Dana: You spoke earlier about being Asian American, and talking about it, not talking about it. You’re involved in the Asian American community.  A sense of responsibility that you have, I know. And I’m wondering too about that, and being open to them, how big a decision that was. I mean, you have begun to share this before this interview here. When was it that you realized “I have to say something?”

Cindy: I decided on a panel, it was an Asian American journalists panel, to share this story, because we were talking about how to make it through this business, which is tough.

And what I found was, when I first opened up, so many people talked to me afterwards about how either they had felt that way, or they had a family member who had been through mental illness issues. It opened a door. It opened a door that had been shut, right now, to so many people. That’s one of the reasons I’m talking, because we need to open the door.

Then I started to get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and they have a walk, so I took part in their walk with my daughter and a friend. And that felt amazing, to have so many people who are going through the same thing. Whether it’s they had gone through depression, or someone they knew, or a friend, or even how do you handle it when you think somebody else might be going through this.

And then, the next year they had asked me to, they asked different people to go on stage, and hold certain bead colors. The beads mean, like, white beads mean if you lost someone to suicide, and green means if you’ve experienced it yourself. That was a big thing, to get on that stage and hold those beads up ,and to see all those people. But it felt like you were doing something. You experience something. You go back in your hole, just keep it a secret. I felt like it didn’t really help anyone. Because what you learn when you go through this is that so many people are going through it, but they’re doing it in secret. After I was in the hospital.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

Dana: How long were you there?

Cindy: I was in the hospital for I believe 2 weeks

Dana: One location or –

Cindy: One location, and it’s one that, it’s a lockdown. You don’t get to go home. You sleep there, you –

Dana: Phones?

Cindy: No, no. They take your phone. There’s a phone on the wall that you can call, but it’s scary. It was scary going in there. That’s one of the reasons I think we need to talk about this. When they said we think you need to go to a psychiatric hospital, of course, as a journalist, you want to say, “OK, well what’s it like there?” You can’t find any information about what it’s like there. You can go on websites for different hospitals that may be psychiatric hospital, there are no pictures, there’s no description.

It’s basically, you’re brought in and you’re left there, and you have to stay there, and you can’t just leave, which is really scary. I was very fortunate to go to a hospital that I feel really helped because of all the experts, the mental health experts, and also all the other people that were there that were going through the same thing were just as helpful.

Dana: Was it also, the beginning though, you’re just alone with all your thoughts, and boy, you can build – I messed up this, I messed up that, I don’t think I can do that. That line between beating yourself up and being compassionate, give yourself permission to love yourself, how was that? It took those experts to help you to get there? Yeah?

Cindy: It took the experts to explain that mental health is just as important as physical health… whether it’s cancer or diabetes.

Dana: We do something immediately right?

Cindy: Right, but mental health no one talks about it, so a lot of people are suffering in silence.

So it takes the experts, it takes treatment to get better and to recover which I’m doing, I have done. It was medication, it’s talk therapy and I continue to do that. I continue to see a psychiatrist every month. I’m still on medication, and I need that.

But I feel great, and I feel so many of us can recover from depression and mental health illnesses.

Dana: Did Rosie know and how did she react?

Cindy: Rosie did not know. Again, she was 11 years old, and when I went into the hospital, I would call her from the phone we were allowed to use sometimes and we would talk. But I would just tell her that mom’s at a place, I‘m taking art courses because there was art therapy, and music therapy, and things like that. She was so small, she didn’t really ask those probing questions, thank goodness, to tell you the truth.

So I just kind of pretended mommy was away for a little bit, but after I had finished with the hospital, after the hospital, you go to a kind of a step down program, where you continue with the group and you continue with different doctors, but you get to go home. And that was for weeks, and weeks, and weeks.

In the middle of that I had asked them how do I handle this with Rosie? They said it depends on what your relationship is with your child, it’s different for everybody. I’ve always been a very open parent… just lay it out there. So I got advice from child psychologists about how to tell her.

And one day we just sat down… she didn’t even ask that many, you know, I said do you have any questions? And she said no. It was weird. I think sometimes, as an adult, you think it’s going to be, your child is going to have more questions than they actually do.

I also said if you want to talk to an expert about this, or if there’s anytime you have questions. And they also told me to make sure that she knows that my illness is not her job to cure, that I have  team of doctors, and I have so many people working to make mommy better, that your job is just to be a kid. You know? And we’re getting better.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

Dana: We were talking about Rosie, and as she’s gotten older, though I just remember you telling me something and I can’t remember the exact circumstances, that she said something like, this is a total example?

Cindy: She’s become an advocate.

Dana: No kidding! No, I’m not surprised, she’s your daughter, of course she is.

Cindy: She’s gone on the walks with me, she saw me hold those beads up. I share with her anything that I’m doing as far as talking about this.

And the thing is… now she’s 17 years old, she’s in high school, and she’s been dealing with this for the last five years. She has now been able to help her friends, her teen friends, talk about angst and issues. Teenagers, and especially during this time, so she’s now the listener.

Because I think one of the biggest things you can do is listen, and listen carefully, to people’s pain, and don’t just swat it away so she is now a strong mental health advocate.

Dana: You must be very proud. Another reason to be so proud of her.

Cindy: I’m proud of her and I just am so grateful that she’s my daughter.

Dana: I want to also get back to being diagnosed, and some will – “What a stigma, I’ve got depression, I can’t let anybody know.” It’s not a stigma.

Cindy: It’s not, but when you’re going through it you think it is. When I was in the step down program, so I was still gone from work, nobody knew from work what was happening with me. I was just, poof, I’m gone.

Dana: I can attest to that. I had no idea,

Cindy: I didn’t communicate with anybody. And in the step-down program, we’ve been through treatment, we’re all getting better.

We all had a whole workshop on what are we going to say when we go back to work, because none of us are going to go back to work and say “I was going through depression and I attempted suicide.” No one’s going to be honest about that. It took me years to be able to talk about this openly, and it’s a growing process and I just hope that other people will open up as well, because going through mental health issues is not a weakness.

If you have a physical ailment, it’s not a weakness. And it’s the same with mental health. It’s just you can’t see the scars.

Dana: And now so many people coming through this pandemic, whether someone has died, been sick. Died, you didn’t get to have a funeral. Sick, you couldn’t, whatever problem at hospitals or afraid to make the call, just speaking culturally, “I’m going to do this at home.” And then all the job stuff, and the shutting down of everything. It’s difficult, that’s such an understatement.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

I think for all of us, and I think there’s that, “Oh well, I don’t really have it bad,” because that person, that shifting all the time. Again, give yourself permission to say “I need to take better care of myself.”

I’m sure that makes you more empathetic now. Do you find that when you look at people, or you’re having conversations with people, I’m just wondering with what you’ve learned, are you – it’s not being a judge, passing judgment – but it’s your compassion, your heart is bigger.

Cindy: I’m more aware, you know, I listen for – if somebody says to you “I just want to disappear” or “I’m such a burden” or “I just want to give up.” You know, just different things. Now a red flag goes up, and I talk more about it. I want to hear what they have to say, because on the outside, even when I was going through this, I think everything looked fine.

You’re one of my dearest friends and you didn’t know. I think most people are really good about hiding it, and that’s also what I learned through this is that no matter how good somebody’s life looks from the outside, they could be going through hell inside.

Dana: We talked about when you hear certain things, what about lifestyle, too? Recognizing things. Maybe not showing up for work, or not exercising, not eating well, because you don’t care?

Cindy: Well for me, it’s different for everybody, but having gone through treatment, and now being able to recognize my signs that I’m not doing well.

It would be I stopped exercising. I used to exercise four times a week. I was a spinner like crazy, I loved it. I stopped. I wanted to sleep all the time. When you pull the shades, you just want to be in the dark, and you want to shut everything out.

And you see big personality changes, also. You know one of my favorite things is to eat, and I wasn’t eating that much. I actually lost… I think I lost something like 20-30 pounds, and I didn’t even know. It wasn’t until I went into the hospital and they weighed me, and you, oh my gosh!

There are a lot of signs. We just need to be able to recognize them.

Dana: Your words again, it’s so worth it, of why you are sharing this? And who are you speaking too?

Cindy: I’m speaking to everybody. I’m speaking to those who are suffering, but I’m also speaking to the loved ones around those people who are suffering. Because we just have to be able to openly talk about this.

There is no shame in going through mental illness. There isn’t. I think so many people are, and as you said with COVID especially, some people have been locked up in their apartment for a year and a half, seeing nobody, communication down. It’s been a really difficult time. That’s why it’s more important than ever to talk about what can happen if you don’t take care of mental health.

Dana: The whispers. People can whisper, whisper, whisper. When you talked about if you see somebody you love, and that person, you may say “Cindy is everything ok?” And you say, “Oh I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m totally fine.” But so, for the other caring person, don’t give up, don’t give up in your help.

Cindy: Yes.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

Dana: Because your instincts are almost always right, that there’s something wrong.

Cindy: You’re so right, and sometimes you don’t realize that until it’s too late. So you have to listen to your instincts and if you think there’s a problem.

That’s the other thing: there are so many resources. There are also so many resources that are low-cost and free, because some people feel like, depending on their socio-economic status, they won’t have access to help. But there is free help, and there is low-cost help, you just have to reach out for it. Or, if you’re the loved one of someone who’s going through this, the loved one can reach out.

Dana: No shame in asking for help.

Cindy: Yes.

Dana: It’s the most simplest of sentences, not necessarily by far the easiest thing to do: No shame in asking for help.

How is work now? How has it been?

Cindy: Work is good, and the other thing is… when I was at my worst, this is what it felt like, visually. Like, you’re in a dark room and you’re smooshed against a corner, and the darkness is just coming closer and closer, until you practically disappear.

Now I realize what’s important in life, and that there are so many people out there that are trained to help you open your life back up, and recover, and talk about it, and then be able to others about it, and help them as well. So work is good.

Dana: Time management? I mean, if you feel those buttons pushed ,you have a whole different skill set to say “I’ll get this done” or “I’ll solve this issue, there was no tape.” That’s not what life is about, even if I were to lose my job, and all these things you’re afraid of happening: it’s OK. You’re going to survive, and that’s when you get better, when you realize that you’re going to make it, you’re going to get through this with help. But when you’re in the midst of a serious depression, you think there is no hope, but there is.

Cindy: When I was leaving the hospital, you make an emergency plan so you name three people you’re going to call if you’re having those feelings. So that it’s like a system set up, I know I will call my mother, I know I’ll call this person, and this person. So you have a  safety net. And I think that’s part of the process is to make sure you have those people in place who can help, or be those people who can help, be somebody’s safety net.

Dana: It’s life. It’s a plan. It’s OK. Depression, no, it’s a new part of your life. It’s not a cloud because you’re managing it?

Cindy: Yes.

Dana: And even more I see for you, you’re helping others.


RESOURCES AND ASSISTANCE

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

Cindy Hsu