As happens with many people, reluctance and denial characterized future
Miss Rhode Island Aimee Belisle's first foray into treatment for
Belisle's close friend recognized that the irritability, moodiness,
fatigue, and loss of appetite Belisle had been experiencing were signs of
depression and urged her to make an appointment at the counseling center at
Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., where they were both students.
"Basically, I told him I wasn't going to make an appointment right
away," she told Psychiatric
Aimee Belisle is flanked by her parents, Normand and Christine Belisle,
at the Miss America competition last September in Atlantic City, N.J.
So he did what any good friend would do—he picked her up, put her in
his car, drove her to the counseling center, and walked in with her.
Belisle, now 24, said she first began experiencing symptoms of depression
when she was in high school. "I was crying a great deal and didn't feel
excited about anything, even the things I'd previously enjoyed," she
"Over time, my symptoms became much worse," she said. By the
time she entered the counseling center for treatment in her junior year, she'd
begun cutting herself.
Through the counseling center, she received medications and psychotherapy,
and her symptoms began to improve within weeks. Once diagnosed, she decided to
educate herself about depression—its prevalence, etiology, and
treatment—by researching the topic extensively.
Belisle said she was bolstered by the love and support she received from
family and friends and soon learned from her mother that depression ran in the
family—her father had been treated for it at different points throughout
Belisle had long aspired to compete in the Miss Rhode Island pageant and
decided to enter the competition in part "to show I was able to achieve
what I wanted despite having depression," she said.
She acknowledged that without treatment, "I doubt I would have been
able to be focused or clear enough to compete" in the pageant.
When she won the title last year, Belisle decided to make depression
awareness her platform. "I wanted my platform to be
personal—something I'd experienced myself," she said.
As part of her platform, she began speaking in public about the need for
depression screening in high schools and on college campuses.
Though many were receptive to her message, she encountered ignorance on the
part of some. "I've had instances where people would tell me, `You just
need to suck it up,'" in regard to her experiences with depression,
Belisle said, and she would turn those encounters into opportunities to help
others understand that depression isn't something that can be willed away.
It is not uncommon for audience members and others to express their
gratitude to Belisle for speaking publicly about depression, she said, which"
convinces me that I'm helping people."
These days, Belisle divides her time between her job as an auditor and her
work as a board member for Families for Depression Awareness, a nonprofit
organization established in 2001 to help families recognize and cope with
She is also a member of APA's newly appointed Presidential Task Force on
Mental Health on College Campuses and is working on expanding depression
screening and education in high schools and universities in Rhode Island and
"Depression screening is starting to take hold," she said,"
but is nowhere near as widespread as it should be."
According to David Fassler, M.D., co-chair of the new task force and a
member of APA's Board of Trustees, "Aimee is an eloquent and effective
spokesperson on the issue of depression in college students.... She captures
her audience by telling her own story in an honest and compelling