In the summer of 2017, Wes Mallgren was renting an apartment in Chicago while his wife, Emily, and two children had just completed a move to Iowa. Mallgren stayed behind in Chicago to complete a job before he joined his family in their new home.
Mallgren was on his own for a majority of the time, and it took a toll on his mental health.
“That summer, as well as not being around my family for five days during the week, I was not really in a good spot mentally,” Mallgren said.
Mallgren said that final stretch in Chicago was the culmination of a lifelong battle with mental illness, particularly depression.
He grew up in the Denver suburbs and was always a socially anxious child. He had a close group of friends but kept to himself otherwise. He moved to New York after graduating college and struggled to find the right social group. He met Emily in 2005, but he was still struggling with small bouts of anxiety and depression.
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“She seemed to ground me,” Mallgren said. “But then that started a new journey for me of how can I better myself? How can I find continue to find that acceptance?”
Mallgren grappled with those thoughts over the next decade. In Chicago, the dark feelings were exacerbated by the relocation and the sudden death of his brother. He turned to anything to cope, like running for 10 miles or drinking with a group of friends. But in the end, the feelings always returned.
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“It was like I was constantly reaching for something external to change how I was feeling internally,” Mallgren said. “I just didn’t want to think about my own issues. I was just trying to escape my own head.”
After a few months, Mallgren moved to Des Moines with his family. He started seeing a therapist regularly. And in the summer of 2019, his physician prescribed him antidepressants.
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Mallgren’s mood drastically changed for the better. He didn’t second guess the verbiage in his emails. He executed better at work. He was much more confident in his ideas, leading to more success in his professional life. Personally, he was more present around family and friends.
He almost felt cheated.
“I looked back and realized I had been missing out on a whole lot of things because I felt this dark cloud over my head,” Mallgren said. “It was like that dark cloud vanished. It was life changing. I could be more present. I can find the happier things around me. I can make better choices for myself.”
“I looked back and realized I had been missing out on a whole lot of things because I felt this dark cloud over my head."
Mallgren, 36, wishes he had tried medication earlier, but it was the stigma that halted him from seeking treatment. He felt bad labeling himself as a person who needed it, like it was something to be ashamed of. Now he knows that just isn’t the case.
“I feel there is still a quite a lot of stigma around it,” Mallgren said. “I just tell people to not be afraid of it. For me, once I got to the other side, I looked back and wish I had been doing it for longer.”
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Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.