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Michigan nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about mental health

Posted at 10:12 AM, Aug 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-14 10:12:20-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Vonnie Woodrick is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health. In 2003, her husband lost his battle with depression.

“How do you tell a 5 year old their dad died by suicide?," asks Woodrick. "So, what I've learned in the past 20 years is that the conversation of mental brain health illness and suicide is not easily talked about. We've made a lot of progress. But simply by changing the conversation, the narratives, and the views, we can reduce stigma and judgment and potentially save lives.”

Woodrick founded I Understand Love Heals, a nonprofit helping people open up about their mental health struggles.

“Why is the brain the only organ in our body that is judged and stigmatized when it fails, or is weak, or is in pain? No other organ, blood or bone is stigmatized, and we accept it," she said. "If my husband didn't choose the illness, which was depression, how can he choose his death? Do we choose cancer? Do we choose heart disease?"

Doug Meijer, co-chairman of the family-owned Meijer grocery store chain, kept his mental health battles hidden for years. He remained silent fearing judgment due to his privileged life.

Meijer says he now speaks openly about mental health thanks to a transformative encounter with Woodrick.

“After the first time I spoke at Vonnie’s event, I was at the local Qdoba restaurant going through the line getting my low-carb burrito bowl. A young woman ahead of me said, 'I would like to buy you lunch.' I said, 'You don’t have to buy me lunch. I can buy my own lunch.' She said, 'No, it would mean a lot to me if I could buy you lunch,'" Meijer said. "She further explained that she saw my interview on local TV and heard about my story. She said, 'if Doug Meijer can talk about it, we can talk about it.' She said her whole family was suffering from depression and brain and mental health issues for a long time, but none of them were talking about it, and now they are."

Woodrick says she also hopes to change the narratives and views on suicide.

“The current definition of suicide is one who intentionally kills himself. My definition is an updated, I believe, more accurate version. It’s an effect of mental brain health and illness or pain. Pain is a common denominator of all suicides," Woodrick said.

I asked both Meijer and Woodrick is there one thing people could do right now to help themselves, to help others?

“Just talking about mental health right now. Talk to your children, talk to your relatives, talk to your friends, reach out if you think someone might be struggling," Meijer said.

Woodrick adds, "one of the biggest impacts I had from sharing my story early on is when a mom messaged me. She said, 'not only did you save my life but you saved my children the devastation of losing me. I always thought they would be better off without me. You made me see that wasn’t true.'”

To learn more about Vonnie Woodrick and I Understand Love Heals, visit their website

In the meantime, we want to say thank you to Vonnie Woodrick for talking about and destigmatizing depression. You are this week’s Good Neighbor.

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Bob Hoffman

Bob Hoffman

9:44 PM, Nov 26, 2018

Good Neighbors Host

Bob Hoffman

Good Neighbors
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