GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Depression does not discriminate. Doug Meijer says his battle with the illness is proof positive.
“The old saying ‘money can’t buy happiness,’ it’s true,” Meijer said.
The West Michigan grocery store executive spoke about his struggle with depression for the first time in a television interview with 24 Hour News 8.
Meijer is a household name in West Michigan because of the chain of supermarkets named after the family. Doug and his brother Hank, both executives in the company, are reportedly worth a combined $6.8 billion.
Doug Meijer said he began to struggle with depression several years ago. He has spoken about it while championing causes focused on mental health. He’s worked with the West Michigan Mental Health Foundation and most recently on a campaign called “i understand,” which focuses on raising awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention.
Meijer said his battle with depression began with feelings of sadness and despair that wouldn’t go away.
“I wasn’t happy. There was something missing,” Meijer said. “I kept trying to talk myself out of being unhappy.”
Eventually, he sought treatment and was diagnosed.
In the meantime, he experienced several hard blows. In the same week in 2011, Meijer’s father died. West Michigan magnate Frederik Meijer, who founded the supermarket chain, was 91. Doug Meijer was also diagnosed with cancer and got divorced.
When traditional antidepressants seemed not to have a major effect, Meijer crossed state lines to become a patient of celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow. The doctor began treating Meijer with ketamine — a drug with federal approval for use as an anesthetic that has more recently been used “off label” as a drug to treat depression.
There is some controversy behind using the drug to treat depression. Ketamine has been abused on the streets under the name “Special K.” There is also concern in the medical community about the potential for users to become addicted to the drug.
Ablow is a major proponent of ketamine, which is administered through IV. He said he has used it on about 100 patients with success in about 70 cases.
“It can take people from depression to being of even mood even after one of these IV sessions — 45 minutes,” Ablow said. “As a psychiatrist, it’s the most exciting development medicinally, psychopharmicalogically, that I’ve seen in my career.”
Ablow said he believes the way ketamine is administered is part of why ketamine is not being used widely. Psychiatrists, he said, typically aren’t equipped to administer IV drugs and doctors who are equipped generally refer mental health treatments to psychiatrists. Ablow says patients asking their doctors about the drug should “expect that your doctor might resist.”
“It’s still a little cloaked in stigma,” Ablow said. “The word still hasn’t gotten out as completely as it should.”
Ablow admits that ketamine isn’t for everyone.
“There are about 30 percent of the people for whom it doesn’t seem to work,” he said. “Even those folks shouldn’t give up. Things can be done.”
Meijer says he has seen tremendous results from his ketamine treatments.
“I feel good and I feel almost free and relieved that I can share this as well,” Meijer said. “It clears up your thinking. So, it’s basically you’re starting fresh.”
In addition to the ketamine, Meijer said he also made personal changes to his environment that improved his mood. One of those was to open up about his story and his struggle.
“If I don’t talk about it, if others don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t get addressed. We’re not solving anything,” Meijer said. “This is something we’re all affected with in one way or another.”
Meijer said being part of opening the conversation about depression is what his father — the best known of the Meijers — would have wanted.
“He wanted to leave the world a little better place. We’re sitting in a beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens right now and he did make the world a better place,” Meijer said. “Hopefully people will hear my story, our story, others’ stories and will be able to relate — will be able to think that, you know, it’s not so bad.”