As the daughter of an American journalism icon, Kathy Cronkite never doubted the axiom, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” But she didn’t really understand its power until she wielded a pen of her own, filling the pages of a book chronicling her battle with depression.
“There is a much greater understanding of depression as an illness and a sort of no-fault thing,” says the author of “On the Edge of Darkness: Conversations on Conquering Depression.” “And yet, the response to, ‘Would you want your child to marry someone with mental illness?’ or ‘Would you want to work with someone with mental illness?’ is usually ‘No.’ So, how do we tackle that? How do we get to, ‘I’m not an illness; I’m a person?’”
A sought-after national public speaker, Cronkite will discuss the topic locally on Nov. 14 at Harbour Ridge Yacht and Country Club during a benefit for Suncoast Mental Health Center. Her talk is titled, “Finding Peace Amid the Chaos.”
Cronkite recalls feeling like “damaged goods” during the extreme lows of her depression. Working in radio at the time, she concealed her bouts on the job, only to collapse under the weight of despair when her shift ended.
“My husband took care of the kids,” she says. “He did the work and would bring me food.”
In 2005 her mom died. That same year, her husband ended the marriage.
“It’s really, really hard to be in a relationship with someone that’s really ill,” she explains. “There’s a horrible stigma against people who bailed, who say, ‘I can’t do this relationship anymore. I can’t take this abuse.’ Even depression can be abusive.”
Friendly with her former husband, Bill Ikard, today she says the poise and compassion demonstrated by her sons, Will and John Ikard, fills her with pride.
Now, Cronkite enjoys good mental health, which she describes simply as “an even keel,” “perspective” and moving from “very disorganized to a little more organized.”
She credits years of good therapy, built from a foundation involving properly supervised medication.
Before her father’s death on July 17, 2009, Walter Cronkite’s towering presence advanced him from CBS broadcaster to celebrity figure, a role she says he eschewed. Yet in some fashion, she relates to the dynamic endured by children of celebrities.
In a New York Times interview published in 1981, for her first book, On the Edge of the Spotlight: Celebrities’ Children Speak Out About Their Lives, she said, “I can remember once having an intimate conversation with my father and people came up and pushed me aside and asked him what he thought about the Middle East. I was actually pushed and shoved out of the crowd.”
She rejects descriptions of her writing or speaking about her depression as “courageous or brave.”
“It was just something that had to be done,” she says. “And I had something of a preferred platform.”
Stigma is still the foe she fights just as fiercely. To lose the fight against the stigma associated with admitting and confronting mental illness is to lose so much more.
“Stigma kills,” she says, citing that 15 percent of depression cases end with suicide. “When there is stigma, people don’t talk about it. There’s this feeling among friends, especially among younger people, ‘Don’t tell anyone or they’ll get angry.’ But it’s better to have an angry friend than a dead friend.”