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Las Vegas residents say living with mental illness is a process

Everyone kept telling local artist Ryan Brunty that Yerman — the name of the monster he created for one of his paintings — had sad eyes.

They weren’t wrong: The drawing was the latest manifestation of Brunty’s own depression.

It has been a couple of years since his darkest moments, and he said that thanks to seeking mental health services, he has been able to weather trying times.

“Before, it was like I was a ship caught in a hurricane,” he said. “Now, I have the tools to navigate that ship.”

There are an estimated 54 million people dealing with some sort of mental illness each year. People have a habit of focusing on the disorder, but those such as Brunty are living their day-to-day lives despite it.

Brunty said he was always the type of kid to sulk in his room after a holiday ended. It made him sad to watch things end.

As he got older, he would have more days where it was hard to get out of bed. Things spiraled for him in 2012 after his grandfather died.

“I wasn’t able to leave the house,” he said.

His depression cost him jobs, and he retreated from friends. Brunty was hitting rock bottom, and it started coming out in his painting.

One time — though he doesn’t remember how the painting even happened — he finished a piece that had statements such as “you’re a loser” painted on top.

That was also around the time he created Yerman, a character who made frequent appearances in his works.

Brunty wasn’t dealing with the depression in his life, and it was taking a toll.

Two years ago, he decided to shop for a therapist to help him navigate through his depression. He also began to speak out publicly about his condition to let others know they aren’t alone.

‘Lows’ started coming more frequently after college

Jane — who asked not to use her full name — said she has dealt with depression since she was 11.

“I remember reading about it in Seventeen magazine,” she said. “It was an article about how seasonal depression happens as people get less sunlight.”

It seemed to fit what she was feeling.

When she tried to talk to her family about it, they shrugged it off. Throughout high school, she had perfect grades while remaining active in school activities. That carried through college, as she kept a busy academic and social schedule.

“I was distracting myself,” she said.

Around the time she was finishing college, the lows in her life were coming more frequently, she said, which led her to consult a doctor. She was prescribed Zoloft for depression, but it didn’t work.

Jane found herself in the library researching disorders — ripping every book she could find off the shelves. When she landed on bipolar disorder, she began to cry.

“It was like someone was watching me and wrote four pages about my life,” she said.

After consulting another doctor, she fought the notion that she needed medication. She held out until her grandmother died, which opened a dark secret that her grandmother had suffered from bipolar .

“She was on lithium until the day she died,” Jane said. “And nobody in my family ever told me.”

She finally went on medication, some of which, she said, zapped her once-outgoing spirit.

“It was a series of experiments,” she added.

‘They aren’t trained to see a person’

Part of Jane’s struggle with mental illness has been dealing with health professionals, who she said are “trained to see an illness. They aren’t trained to see a person.” During that time, she also worried about her work performance and began losing friends.

“I had a friend tell me, ‘I hope my (Jane) comes back,’ ” she said.

One time, she went off her medication abruptly and said it was the only time she ever dealt with psychosis. “It was the only time I have ever felt homicidal,” she said.

About four years ago, she decided to wean herself off the medication in a more healthy way. She said that worked for two years. But family problems, career stress and a bad breakup from her boyfriend were a perfect storm to send her over the edge. She ended up in a mental facility.

“It was the worst experience,” she said.

Now, she is back on medication and sees a counselor regularly.

Both Brunty and Jane have gone through their lows. Today, they feel they are better equipped to deal with their mental illness.

Brunty, who meets with a therapist weekly, channels his emotions through his art. Meanwhile, Jane has days where getting out of bed is still a struggle.

“But I also volunteer regularly, kayak and run marathons,” she said. “I am still able to thrive despite it.”

For mental health support information, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at nami.org, or mentalhealth.gov.

To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email mlyle@viewnews.com or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.

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