Mimi Matsumori likes to play the ukulele when her multiple sclerosis allows her to (she used to play the guitar, but says that it's too cumbersome to play in her wheelchair because of the size). She struggled to live with her physical disability and overcome a deep depression after being diagnosed.

Her dreams
overcome depression

A UH student coping with
multiple sclerosis aims to help
others regain mental health

The young woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and hospitalized while visiting her family in Osaka, Japan, in the summer of 1997 before starting medical school in New Jersey.

The next years were filled with torment for Mimi Matsumori as she struggled to live with her physical disability and overcome deep depression.

"My goals and plans and dreams for the future were upside down," she said. "It was like I lost everything. I lost my body, the lower half of my body. I didn't want to live. I thought I would rather die rather than live suffering. I didn't see a future ahead of me."

Matsumori is still in a wheelchair, but says, "I feel like I've come a long way from the point where I wanted to die."

She has learned to live independently and looks forward to marriage and a career as a rehabilitation counselor.

The University of Hawaii graduate student will be among volunteers available to help others suffering from mental health problems Thursday on National Depression Screening Day at Kahala Mall.

Dr. Brenda Cartwright, assistant professor in the University of Hawaii Department of Counselor Education and a Rehabilitation Association of Hawaii board member, said she suggested a depression screening project to the board.

"The main thing is to get the word out to people that there is help out there and it's okay to talk about it," Cartwright said, noting that 2.5 million Americans suffer from depression.

Graduate students in Cartwright's classes planned and organized the event, found the site and ordered assessment kits.

She said most of her students, including Matsumori, are from cultures that don't talk about things like depression. People may say, "I want this information for a friend of mine," she said. "That's okay, as long as we get the word out."

Matsumori's advice to others suffering depression is to "just hang in there, no matter how dark it may seem at the time. Trust God. Don't give up. Get professional help. Talk to friends and get support.

"I give credit to all the people who helped me," she said. "It truly was a blessing from God."

Matsumori earned a bachelors degree in psychology at the University of Delaware and was attending classes at Old Dominion University in Virginia, with plans to go to medical school, when she became ill in Osaka.

"One day I woke up and couldn't get out of bed; I couldn't even stand. I lost my ability to walk," she said. She was hospitalized there six months.

Her parents brought her to Hawaii for treatment in February 1998, she said. They eventually returned to Japan while she remained here, trying to adjust to her physical condition and depression, she said.

"Given the Japanese culture, when you have a problem you're not supposed to talk to outsiders," she said. "It's difficult to get help from the outside, although I knew that's what I needed."

She did see a counselor who helped a lot, she said, "but I was still feeling pretty bad," coping with both emotional and physical changes.

She moved to One Kalakaua, a senior condominium, because it has wheelchair access and many services, including meals, and began participating in activities there, she said.

She met her fiancé there four years ago in the library where they both used the computers. He also was a resident, taking care of his grandfather, she said.

Hospitalized about that time at Kaiser Permanente because of an MS-related infection, she met a medical social worker who helped her get a job at the All-Star Sports Therapy Center. A former athlete, she learned to swim there using her arms and upper body and worked several years until deciding to go back to school this year.

She said she has lived since April 2000 "in a regular apartment," and is making new friends. They and many others, including those in an MS support group, have helped her shake depression, she said.

Matsumori was recently engaged and plans to be married Jan. 10. She said she will graduate in December next year.


Free mental health screenings

Free and confidential mental health screenings will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday in the Center Court next to Starbucks at Kahala Mall.

Hawaii is one of about 5,000 sites across the country participating in National Depression Screening Day, being held as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week.

People who shift from high to low moods, who are constantly moody or sad, can't relax or concentrate, unable to eat or sleep or troubled by unexplained aches and pains may be suffering from a mental health disorder.

Screenings will cover depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

Participants will be asked to complete a self-assessment taking less than 10 minutes. University of Hawaii graduate students in counselor education will score the forms. Six psychologists will interpret them and discuss results with participants.

Educational sessions will provide information on how to manage stress and recognize physical symptoms related to mental health disorders.

The Rehabilitation Association of Hawaii is sponsoring the project with the Mental Health Association in Hawaii, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and United Self Help.


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