Mike Wallace: Speaking to a Nation
In April of this year, the world lost one of its most respected journalists. A journalist who could hold the feet of world leaders to the fire and get them to respond to the tough questions that needed answered.
Born in 1918, Wallace was one of the original correspondents for CBS’ groundbreaking investigative journalism show 60 Minutes, which debuted in 1968. He worked as a full-time correspondent for the program until 2006, and until 2008 as an occasional correspondent.
However, it is not only his career as a respected journalist for which he will be remembered. He will also be remembered for his openness about his diagnosis and struggle with depression.
Wallace’s depression was brought on by a lawsuit in 1984 that was filed against him and several other members from CBS over a documentary about the Vietnam War. Wallace had been the chief correspondent.
As Wallace wrote for Guideposts in 2002, “I found myself suddenly struck, then overwhelmed, by something—an emptiness, a helplessness, an emotion and physical collapse—I’d never experienced before.”
At the time Wallace did not realize he was experiencing depression. He tried to keep going as usual: doing research, conducting interviews. However, the pressure of routinely going into the courthouse and having accusations thrown at him began to eat away him. He began to think that perhaps he had done something wrong; that perhaps he was a dishonest person.
The following month brought a brief period of respite as he was able to leave the courtroom and travel to Ethiopia for a story. He believed he was getting his old self back, back to normal.
But as soon as he returned, the feelings of depression swarmed over him again. One night, his depression came to a head when he took a large amount of sleeping pills. His wife found him unconscious at 3 a.m. and he was rushed to the hospital. Doctors were able to pump his stomach. At the urging of his wife, Wallace finally went to go see a doctor. At the time, his doctor warned him that admitting that he was having emotional difficulties could potentially do damage to his reputation.
At the end of year, after battling the flu, he was admitted a hospital with what CBS announced was “exhaustion.” In truth, as he soon found, it was actually clinical depression.
After the trial ended—the other side dropped the lawsuit—Wallace thought he would go back to feeling as he did before the trial. But he didn’t.
As his doctor told him, “That’s not how depression works. You don’t just snap out of a serious illness. You have to stay on the treatment and give it time to work.”
Because of the stigma associated with having depression and other mental illnesses, Wallace did not disclose his personal struggles with the public until 1988 when he appeared on Later with Bob Costas. His initial intention was not, however, to discuss his depression, but he soon realized that it was an opportune time to address the issue and could offer hope to the people watching who may also be struggling with their own illness.
Mike Wallace continued talk about his depression, including on the PBS program Healthy Minds in 2009.
Wallace understood that the people around him were what helped him stay strong through difficult times and was willing to give help to others. In a NAMI Blog, Helen Singer describes how even a single phone call from Wallace helped her greatly.
With the support of the people around him, Wallace was able to find strength. As he wrote in Guideposts:
“In a way, that’s been the key to my still going strong for all these years. Every time I reach out beyond myself—to my family and friends, to my doctor, to my coworkers and the public to whom we bring the news, to the whole community of people who battle depressive disorders, and to the one I have turned to ever since I was a boy in Brookline—I find hope that has led me out of the darkness.”