Dr. Merry Noel Miller, professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, is no stranger to how detrimental mood and emotional disorders can be — especially for women who handle these types of issues alone.
Miller’s book, “Finding Your Emotional Balance: A Guide for Women,” speaks to many of the emotional struggles women face throughout all stages of life. On March 17, Miller spoke at an event sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center about her own story, along with a brief informational session on the topics covered in her recently-released book.
Miller opened with some startling statistics — women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety or depression throughout their lives. This, along with personal battles with depression, was her motivation to make women’s emotional disorders her life project.
“I felt the need to write a book because there’s not really a book like this,” Miller said. “There are many books focused on specific disorders, but a lot of the information that women get is from women’s magazines so I wanted to give something that was more substantial that got into specific details of all the different disorders and treatments.”
Miller, who has been a psychiatrist for three decades, explains that she personally dealt with bouts of serious depression when she was in her twenties.
“I grew up with a mother who had very serious depression, and it was never well-treated,” Miller said. “She had never fully recovered, and she went in and out of the hospital, she had ECT a number of times, and she died when I was eighteen years old.”
Miller goes on to explain that when she was in medical school, she began to deal with serious depression herself, and even had to take time off to receive treatment.
“Fortunately, the treatment I got was so much better than [the treatment that] my mother got, and I was able to fully recover from my depression,” Miller said. “After I started over in medical school, I decided to make it my secret because I shared the stigma that so many people feel about mental illness.”
Miller finished medical school, and left for a new town and a new life with people who would not know her past. She completed her residency at Duke, worked in Chicago for seven years, came to ETSU and became the chair of the psychiatry department, and finally, after stepping down from her position as chair and receiving a sabbatical in 2012, Miller began to share her story.
“I had always wanted to write a book, but I also really wanted to tell my story,” Miller said. “I felt like there was more to be gained than to be lost at this point in my life.”
Like any medical professional, Miller’s experiences in her field of study impacted her everyday life, not just her research.
Having raised a daughter and a son, she explains that after working with adolescent children in Chicago for years, raising kids was a scary thing.
“I was working with all these very troubled adolescents in Chicago that were into gangs and drugs and all this, and there I was with these little infants,” Miller said. “But I think it helped me tremendously because I worked with this psychologist who was really great at doing family therapy with these severely troubled families, so I learned a lot about parenting issues.”
Parenting wasn’t the only area of her life that was impacted by her medical background. Miller faced some hard times in 2010 with the unexpected passing of her husband.
“One thing I learned in my residency was that grief is one time in life that a psychiatrist doesn’t want to come in and take away because it’s part of being human,” Miller said. “I read lots of books about grief, and I looked for other people who had been through it.”
Miller’s refreshing transparency and efforts to make the book a help to readers of all backgrounds help create an excellent resource for women who feel they need help balancing their emotions.
Also, she continues that this is a great book for men to read as well. The topics covered in Miller’s book are helpful for men who want to learn about supporting women in their lives who are going through the seasons that Miller discusses.
“I love for men to read [the book],” Miller said. “My husband read every word, and gave me lots of feedback.”
For more on Miller’s personal story and specifics about her study of women’s mental health, purchase “Finding Your Emotional Balance: A Guide for Women” from Amazon.