Perky. Bubbly. Upbeat.
If you’ve caught even just one episode of ABC’s Emmy-winning and tear-jerking Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in the last few years, these descriptions might come to mind when you think of Paige Hemmis, the animated blond who always seems to have a smile on her face and a pink tool belt slung around her waist.
You might even describe Paige Hemmis as one who’s likely to be the recipient of cliché construction site catcalls rather than one of the hardhats herself.
A description that might not come to mind, however, is depressed. It’s certainly not a word many people associate with lively and helpful go-getters like Paige Hemmis, yet, somewhere between building new homes for struggling families and changing lives for deserving folks across the nation, that’s exactly how Paige found herself.
I was fortunate enough to talk with Paige last week about her struggle with depression, how treatment has helped her refocus her energies on the show, and the exciting new campaign she’s started to help shed light on depression advocacy, awareness, and resources.
After her plane landed and she was safely settled in the back of a car (hey, this is Paige Hemmis we’re talking about – in addition to the show, she’s juggling her Tuff Chix line of work gear for women and volunteer time with Habitat for Humanity – she’s a busy gal), I dove right into the question that’d been bouncing around in my head since learning about Paige’s new advocacy efforts:
Given the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues, what prompted Paige Hemmis – so well known for her happy demeanor – to go public with her depression?
Paige laughs and agrees there is definitely still a “big stigma” surrounding mental health, but launches into a story about a good friend of hers who admitted she’d sought help for her own struggles after listening to Paige talk about her situation. “It’s so amazing my story could inspire other people!”
But before we learn about how Paige is hoping to inspire more people with her story, we first have to learn her story.
You might think building a new home for a devastated family each week – seeing the smiles and tears of joy, hearing the laughter and endless “thank yous” – would be enough to keep anyone happy – that Paige Hemmis shouldn’t even have a story of depression to tell. However, depression doesn’t care who you are, what your job is, or how many good things you do for other people, and for Paige, sometimes this meant Home Edition caused more sadness than joy:
“It [the show] takes an emotional toll. I like getting involved, but the emotional toll is very hard.”
Before she went public with her depression, Paige admits she often put on a happy face to make it through the day and sometimes relied on the excuse of her hectic work schedule to avoid hanging out with friends and loved ones, and she feels the way she handled her depression in both her public and private lives is just one example of how depression and its symptoms span a pretty broad range:
“You don’t have to be suicidal to be depressed; there is a gray area. I think I represent people who go on about their daily lives.”
Now that she’s learned how to treat and manage her depression, Paige finds it easier to deal with that emotional toll: “I focus on the help now…I have a better grasp of that.”
Which brings us back to Paige using her story to inspire others – something the energetic self-taught carpenter is perfectly poised to do.
Shortly after the conversation with her friend, Paige put the word out that she was interested in getting involved with advocacy. With the help of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Dr. Jesse H. Wright, and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Paige launched Blueprint for Hope, the aptly named depression awareness campaign geared toward helping others learn more about the mental health condition and the many tools available for people suffering from depression.
And if you think Paige is just another celeb who’s slapped her famous face on some well-meaning campaign for all the primo public relations benefits, you couldn’t be more off. She is passionate about the campaign and I can hear the sincerity in her voice when she tells me, “Blueprint for Hope is the website I wish I had when I was going through it.”
Keeping true to her DIY roots, Paige has rolled up her sleeves and started a series of videos for the campaign’s website to help people learn about how they can create their own “blueprints” for hope to deal with depression. And, just like a typical blueprint is a “plan to create an awesome house,” Paige believes developing an individual blueprint for dealing with depression will help each person better deal with the condition. To get started, she would encourage a person to “[g]o talk to your doctor, and look online for resources. Break it down so it’s not so scary.”
Blueprint for Hope currently focuses on providing information and free resources for people with depression, and in the coming months Paige – along with a DBSA representative and a doctor – will attend Blueprint for Hope events in communities throughout the nation to share her story, offer DIY tips for inspiration and motivation, and encourage people to explore resources for managing depression. The tour dates will be posted on the Blueprint for Hope website as they’re finalized, but if you live in or near Sacramento, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, or Philadelphia, you can expect a visit.
Overall, Paige wants Blueprint for Hope to educate people about depression and help them realize they’re not alone, and she can sum up in five simple, yet powerful, words with resolute determination in her voice the one goal above all others she hopes Blueprint for Hope achieves: “Inspiring people to get help.”
And here’s to hoping it does just that.
Visit the Blueprint for Hope website to learn more about the campaign and it’s supporters, as well as nab some resources and watch Paige’s DIY videos for developing your own blueprint for hope.