Monday, January 7, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments - Ken Houbolt '88

Fear. Doubt. Anxiety. Pretending to be something you're not, or pretending a problem doesn't exist. Hiding the truth from those you love. Avoiding social situations. Making excuses. Wondering why we can't just be "normal." 

These are just a few of the things that people with mental health issues feel on a constant basis, thanks to the stigma around such issues. We see it on the news, we read about it in health classes, but it is reaching much closer to home for most of us.


When Ken Houbolt ‘88 went to visit a family member in the hospital who was battling depression, he was shocked to see other families he knew there, including a family he had grown up with. But he wasn’t surprised when he heard every family make up a reason for being there. In fact, it seemed to be the norm to not talk (to not talk or to make excuses?) about mental health issues.

Later, as Ken was sitting in a diner, he heard a woman tell her friend that her Jimmy had just been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. The first thing the friend said was, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” Ken quickly realized that there was something very wrong about how mental health was being viewed.

“People talk about democrats and republicans all day long, but not mental health,” Ken explains. “One out of four people struggle with mental health and two-thirds of them don’t get help because of the negative stigma or lack of coverage. You’ll get help for a broken arm, but not a mental health issue, which affects everything we do - including friends, family, and work.”

When Ken later had the opportunity to partner with Lewis University for an event, he immediately suggested a comedy night that would raise awareness for mental health issues and raise money to support the cause. After forming a committee of other Lewis alumni and people who were passionate about the issue, “Laugh to Create Awareness” started to take shape.

The event, set to take place on April 25, 2019 at the Beverly Arts Center, will feature three comedians: Lewis alumnus John Caponera ‘79, Joe Killgallon, and Marty Derosa, who also hosts his own podcast “Wrestling With Depression,” featuring successful people who struggle with the disease. WGN’s Mike Toomey will join as emcee.

The proceeds from the event will support a scholarship for a Lewis student in the graduate counseling program, the Center for Health and Counseling Services at Lewis, and Pillars Community Health, a nonprofit that helps individuals who have no insurance or have limited coverage for mental health issues.

The goal? Get people talking. “We’re doing the opposite of what people have been doing,” Ken explains. “Instead of keeping it inside, through comedy, we are showing an outward sign. It’s not something to make fun of, but something that we want and need to express outwardly.”

“If we can help people to come out of the event with a willingness to talk about it, and have those people say it’s okay to talk about it or be more willing to listen to others who are struggling with it, then that can spread,” adds Ken. “It can catch on and help people who struggle with mental illness and their families.”

Since Ken has made a resolution to talk about mental illness with others in his life, he has noticed a huge difference - not only for himself, but everyone he talks with. He has gotten numerous calls from other families hoping to talk about their personal or loved one’s struggles with mental health. This support and openness is ultimately what the “Laugh to Create Awareness” event is all about.

To find out more about the event, or to register, go to www.alumni.lewisu.edu/comedynight.