Group therapy at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial led to marvelous breakthrough after decades of mental health struggles
May 20, 2021
It took 30 years for Calumet City resident Edward Murray, 73, to decide he needed a higher level of care for his lifelong struggle with depression. Recently, he sought treatment at the University of Chicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital and had a “marvelous breakthrough” in group therapy as part of the Intensive Outpatient Program, Murray said.
The retired Army veteran struggled with feelings of anger and sadness throughout his life. A mental health evaluation through his company’s employee assistance program decades ago resulted in a depression diagnosis.
“I couldn’t catch myself before I snapped on people,” Murray said. “I thought I was a jolly person, but I could go off like a rocket. The evaluation still shocked me. At the time I thought I had a pretty good hold on my life.”
Murray eventually found that his mental health challenges impacted his relationships, including difficulty with two marriages, raising two daughters and working as an electronic technician for U.S. Steel and, later, as an instrument repairman at Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
Murray said he went into treatment with “such trepidation” and came out with permanent, grounding solutions to get his depression in check.
While Murray sometimes denied he had problem and also struggled to find the time for long-term treatment, his biggest hurdle was a stigma that as a Black man, getting help for mental health meant he was weak.
“I knew the folks I hung out with wouldn’t take it well. I thought, ‘Don't real men just shake it off? What would my homies think?’ I wasn’t going to admit that I needed professional help,” Murray said.
Although he talked to a few counselors in times of crisis, Murray never completely followed through with getting the right level of treatment that would provide him with more long-lasting tools to manage his mental illness.
Years went by before his retirement in 2011. Soon after, he noticed his mental health deteriorating, and he began having intrusive, negative thoughts. His primary care physician referred him to psychiatrist Joseph Beck, MD, at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial.
When he wasn’t satisfied with medication or individual therapy to treat his depression symptoms, Murray considered a group therapy option. “I consider myself a reasonable person, so I thought, ‘Why am I acting the fool?’ I gritted my teeth and jumped into treatment.”
Murray participated in the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), offered through UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial’s Tinley Park location, virtually amid the pandemic last year. The program provides support and treatment through group therapies focused on counseling, education and medication management during sessions lasting three hours each, three days a week, for six to eight weeks.
“IOP is by far the hardest ‘sell’ for my patients. They have a fear of commitment, yet they get the greatest reward,” said Beck, Executive Medical Director for behavioral health at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial.
He described the program as a “mental health boot camp.”
“The intensity allows a sort of immersion in universal elements of behavioral health hygiene: What skills do you need to keep yourself well?” Beck said. “Patients realize when they put themselves first, with only minor modifications to their lifestyles, they can use the skills they learn as a framework for the future.”
Murray said he thinks of the tools he learned at group therapy, such as mindfulness and meditation, like wrenches and hammers in a tool box. “When I was working, I didn’t use every tool in my tool bag every day, but I took comfort in knowing I had them.”
Murray said he went into treatment with “such trepidation” and came out with permanent, grounding solutions to get his depression in check. He wished he had learned these techniques much earlier in life, and encourages others struggling with mental health to reach out for help.
“This is your chance to get out from under the weight of your thoughts, to get what you came for. This is your opportunity. I’m 73, and I lived a life hunting for this: peace of the mind, body and soul,” Murray said.
Using the skills he learned in the program, Murray said he can be a better grandpa for his 8-year-old granddaughter, whom he has been caring for since she was 6 months old.
Joseph Beck, MD, is a UChicago Medicine Medical Group provider. UChicago Medicine Medical Group is comprised of UCM Care Network Medical Group, Inc. and Primary Healthcare Associates, S.C. UChicago Medicine Medical Group physicians are not employees or agents of The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago or UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial.
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