Radio Interview – How Team of Angels and Depression are Connected

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Bringing Angel Pins and Laptops to Wounded Soldiers

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Laptop computers, angel pins with messages bring hope to wounded military

By Carol Baass Sowa
Today’s Catholic Laura Brown of Cody, Wyo., organizer of Laptops for the Wounded, came with four laptop computers with webcams to enable hospitalized military to stay in touch with their families and the world.

SAN ANTONIO • Two “angels” — one from the East Coast, one from the West — flew into San Antonio together in June to boost the morale of hospitalized members of the military (and their families) at Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Medical Center and the Audie Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital.
Patricia Gallagher of Royersford, Pa., creator of the Team of Angels project, brought with her a thousand angel pins attached to messages of hope and gratitude. Laura Brown of Cody, Wyo., organizer of Laptops for the Wounded, came with four laptop computers with webcams to enable hospitalized military to stay in touch with their families and the world.
Gallagher’s Team of Angels project, whose outreach extends beyond the military, grew out of a time of deep emotional pain. Facing daunting financial difficulties, with her husband suffering from severe depression, her marriage on the verge of collapse, her father dying from throat cancer and four children to look after (two in the rebellious years), she felt totally overwhelmed.
Describing herself as “a run-of-the-mill” Catholic until then, she found herself making daily visits to a nearby church. A writer (she had previously authored books on child-rearing and starting a home childcare business), Gallagher cried and prayed as she pulled out her pen and began scribbling a poem. It began: “I need a team of angels, Lord — I don’t think one will do. …” Once home, she crafted three tiny angels out of gold safety pins and attached them to her poem.

During the year that followed Gallagher estimates she wrote about 300 different poems that called on angels, while sitting in the church. “I later realized that those poems were my way of praying,” she said. There was “A Team of Angels for Depression,” “A Team of Angels to Protect My Children” and more.

She and her children began making hundreds of the poetry cards with their attached angel pins. “I decided to put them on my front porch,” said Gallagher, “and I let a local newspaper know that if anybody was overwhelmed, they could come and take a pin.” On the back of the cards was a message asking the taker to pass on the pin when they found someone who needed it more and to write her about it.

Accompanied by her children, Gallagher began leaving the cards with angel pins at various locations where they might be found by someone who needed them. She also began filling requests for them, including one from a prisoner on death row. Soon she began to hear of their popping up in other locales, as people followed the instructions on the back of the card and passed them on to others.

“My neighbors lost their child in a fire. Someone gave them your pin,” said one letter writer. “My friend is the victim of domestic abuse. I gave her the pin and it has helped her endure as she plans to leave,” said another.

Along the way, Gallagher learned more about depression through support groups, retreats and books — that it is an illness affecting not only the one afflicted with it, but those close to them as well. And in the process she strengthened her faith. She and her husband separated for five years, then were reunited when one of their children went through a bout of depression.
At this point, she estimates she has given out over 100,000 angel pins in what is basically a one-woman project she has been financing herself.

Her decision to invest a year ago in what will be her last pins came after an earnest prayer on what was to become of the project. “I said, ‘God, you have to give me a sign. It has to be seamless,’” she relates. She was stunned then, to turn on a computer at the library and see the word “seamless” appear at the top of the screen.

Of modest means and a single parent for a while, she then “stepped out in faith,” using money from the sale of her house and van to purchase the last 50,000 pins to give away. (She now special orders the pins — three golden angels linking arms — through a company, affixing them to printed bookmarks of her poems.)

The pins distributed at military hospitals here in June were among her last, as she can no longer afford to support the project alone. She is hoping churches and other organizations or corporations might step forward to finance and distribute the pins. She has the paperwork ready to file for nonprofit status, if she can bring others aboard the Team of Angels project to help. A Rotary Club in her area sponsored her trip here.

“I don’t want it to stop,” she says. “These angels had a purpose — they comforted me at a time that was very dark for me.” She would like to see their message of hope continue to be passed on to others.
Laura Brown met Gallagher via the Internet earlier this year. Both had plans to visit military hospitals in San Antonio, so teamed up to make their trips a joint effort. Having had a son who served in Iraq and a personal disability that hinders her own mobility sparked Brown to establish Laptops for the Wounded.

After her son was discharged from active duty, she says, “I started thinking about injuries, death and things like that, because when they’re in active duty, you can’t let yourself think about the risks.”
“We have, as American citizens, a duty to support and thank them,” she said of those who serve in the armed forces. “These young people, they’re just children when they leave home. And they go in the military and they graduate from basic training and you’re like, ‘Where’s my kid?’”

In 2005 she learned of a young soldier at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who had been hospitalized there for a year and a half. He had told his mother the one thing he wanted most was a laptop, so he could stay in contact. “My goodness,” said Brown to herself, “if everybody on my address book on my computer sent me five dollars, we could buy this guy a laptop easy.”

The project blossomed from there, with boosts from publicity in the Stars and Stripes, a magazine and postings on various web sites. Along the way Brown picked up the help of Internet technicians and a web master, both located on the East Coast.

By the time she was able to acquire a laptop for the young soldier who inspired her project, one had already been donated to him, so she instead set her goal as acquiring four laptops to donate to military hospitals for use by the patients, seeing that as a reachable goal. She added webcams to them, knowing as the mother of a former soldier that your child can tell you all is well in a letter, “but if I look in his eyes, I can see if he’s doing fine.”

Eventually she donated eight laptops with webcams, offering free repair on them through her IT people and even fixing broken ones that others had given the hospitals. At this point, her funds ran out, but received a boost when her IT director in Connecticut staged a benefit golf tournament for the project. Others across the country staged personal fundraisers as well. To date, she has distributed 39 laptops with webcams to military hospitals for patient use.

Brown, like Gallagher, has reached the point where she needs help to continue running the project and is in the process of filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. She and her technicians are in the planning stages of a project that would help train hospitalized soldiers in diagnosing and repairing laptops, which skills they could then pass on to new patients. This would not only help continue the program, but give them a marketable skill when they re-start their lives.

Formerly extremely active (she used to hunt, climb mountains and ride a Harley), Brown noted that her own knee and back problems would have her laid up in bed for several days following her San Antonio trip. “I’ve lost all the things that I loved to do most of my life,” she says. “My laptop is like my window to the world. It keeps me in contact with family and friends.” At least she can still get out and about, she says, “But these guys’ world has been shrunken so far down — a room, a few hallways.”

Both Brown and Gallagher were clearly moved by their experience with the hospitalized military they visited. “I had to step away several times and ‘regroup,’” said Brown. “I would start crying.” They also met with a group of Blue Star Mothers (mothers whose children serve in the military) and with a Gold Star Mother (one whose child has been killed in military service).

They spoke of a young soldier suffering third degree burns, who had lost both arms and legs, his ears and his eyelids. His German-born wife had flown in to be with him, leaving their 19-month-old child with her parents. Another young veteran of Iraq was totally paralyzed below his neck and in an induced coma while recuperating from surgery, and his sister confided her fears of what would happen when he learned of his state.

They described visiting a soldier paralyzed from the chest down, save for being able to slightly move his left hand — and how he promised he would be feeding himself by their next visit.

And they spoke of the Vietnam veterans at the VA hospital, many still suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, who felt they had never been really thanked for all they had given.

“To everybody we saw,” said Gallagher, “we kept saying, ‘We just want to thank you — from our family, from everybody.’”

When Our Troops Face Depression

Angels for Our Troops
Patricia Gallagher, Team of Angels Project director, presents a supply of angel pins and bookmarks to Chaplain (Capt.) John Elliot at the Wilford Hall Medical Center Chaplain’s Office on June 5.
The pins will be distributed to hospital patients and their family members. The inch-high lapel pins feature three gold angels with linked hands and are attached to a bookmark with a short inspirational poem. So far thousands of service members and their families have received angel pins. (U.S. Air Force by Staff Sgt. Ruth Stanley).

When My Friend and I Went to Visit Wounded Soldiers

Radio Interview with Patricia, Team of Angels Project

Out of Adversity
© 2000 by Priscilla Y. Huff

We all go through hard times in our lives, and we can either curl up in a little ball and hide away somewhere or we can turn and face the current storm to try to come to terms with the crisis, learn from it and hopefully move on with our lives. While none of us wants or looks forward to bad times in our personal and/or business lives, sometimes an unexpected turn for the worse forces us into ventures that we never dreamed we would be doing. Here is an example of a person prevailing over adversity:

Patricia Gallagher, mother of four children, created a “Team of Angels” pin accompanied by a special poem she wrote when she felt totally overwhelmed after her husband suffered a debilitating accident. She felt compelled to give away 10,000 of these pins and poems to help others who were struggling with personal crises, in addition to giving 5,000 to U. S. troops serving in Kosovo. When people who had received the free pins asked Gallagher if they could purchase more pins to give to friends, she began to sell the pins along with new poems she composed. This demand resulted in launching a successful home-based business that involves Gallagher’s entire family – including her 74-year-old parents.

Help and Hope for Depression – Our Experience

Wall Street Journal Article

A Way Out of Depression
Coaxing a Loved One in Denial into Treatment Without Ruining Your Relationship
For people suffering from depression, the advice is usually the same: Seek help.
That simple-sounding directive, however, is often difficult for those with depression to follow because one common symptom of the disease is denial or lack of awareness. This can be frustrating for well-meaning family and friends—and is one of the key ways that treating mental illness is different from treating other illnesses.
Research shows that almost 15 million American adults in any given year have a major depressive disorder. And six million Americans have another mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other psychotic disorders. Yet a full 50% of people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia don’t believe they are ill and resist seeking help. People with clinical depression resist treatment at similar rates, experts say.
You may have seen that seemingly ubiquitous TV commercial for the anti-depressant Cymbalta that repeatedly stresses that “depression hurts”—not just the person who is sick but the people who love that person as well. (Even the dog looks sad.) It’s an ad, sure, but the sentiment is correct: People who live with a depressed person often become depressed themselves. And depression can have a terrible effect on relationships. It is a mental illness beyond just a depressed mood or situational sadness, in which a person is able to still enjoy life. Depression drains people of their interest in social connections. And it erases personality traits, taking away many of the very characteristics that made people love them in the first place.
“Depression makes a person see the world through gray-colored glasses,” says Xavier Amador, a clinical psychologist and author of “I Am Not Sick. I Don’t Need Help!” which was republished earlier this year in a 10th edition.
The challenge for a person with a depressed spouse, relative or close friend who refuses to get treatment is how to change that defiant person’s mind. Reality show-style interventions and tough love are rarely successful, experts say. But there are techniques that can help. The key is to try and avoid a debate over whether your loved one is sick and instead look for common ground.
Patricia Gallagher knows how hard this can be. Her husband, John, came home from his job as a senior financial analyst for a pharmaceutical company one day and said his boss had given him three to six months to find a new job. He was crying.
Over the next year, Ms. Gallagher, who is 59 years old and lives in Chalfont, Pa., noticed her husband became irritable, sad, and short-tempered, withdrawing from her and the kids. He lost 55 pounds, stopped sleeping and would call her numerous times each day saying he couldn’t “take it” anymore. He visited doctors dozens of times that year,
getting examined for everything from a stomach ulcer to a brain tumor. Many doctors suggested he see a psychiatrist, but he didn’t.
Ms. Gallagher tried everything she could think of to help. She urged her husband to relax or take a vacation. She begged him to see a psychologist, eventually scheduling the appointments herself, and even going alone when he refused to go, to ask advice. Eventually, he was hospitalized after becoming catatonic with anxiety, then attempted suicide by jumping out the hospital room window.
A decade later, the Gallaghers are separated. “I kept thinking, ‘You’ve wrecked everything because you didn’t go to therapy,'” she says. Mr. Gallagher, 59, a sales associate for a clothing company, says: “I didn’t understand [depression] was a chemical thing. I thought it was a physical thing.”
People who are mentally ill yet refuse or are unable to admit it or seek help may feel shame. They may feel vulnerable. Or their judgment may be impaired, keeping them from seeing that they’re depressed.
“When a loved one tells them they are depressed and should see someone, they feel they are being criticized for being a complete failure,” says Dr. Amador, director of the LEAP Institute in Taconic, NY, which trains mental-health professionals and family members how to circumvent a mentally ill person’s denial of their disease.
Getting Around Denial
Experts say there are ways to circumvent a loved one’s refusal to seek help:

BE GENTLE. Your loved one likely feels very vulnerable. “This is akin to talking to someone about his weight,” says Ken Duckworth, a psychiatrist and medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an education, support and advocacy group. Simply saying “I love you” will help.

SHARE YOUR OWN VULNERABILITY. If you’ve accepted help for anything—a problem at work, an illness, an emotional problem—tell your loved one about it. This will help reduce their shame, which is a contributing factor to denial.

STOP TRYING TO REASON. Don’t get into a debate about who is right and who is wrong. Ask questions instead. Learn what your loved one believes.

FOCUS ON THE PROBLEMS YOUR LOVED ONE CAN SEE. Suggest they get help for those. For example, if they acknowledge sleep loss or problems concentrating, ask if they will seek help for those issues. “Don’t hammer them with everything else,” says Dr. Duckworth. “Nobody wants to be pathologized.

SUGGEST YOUR LOVED ONE SEE A GENERAL PRACTITIONER. It is often far easier to persuade them to do this than to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. And this physician can diagnose depression, prescribe medicine or refer to a mental-health professional.

WORK AS A TEAM. Ask if you can attend an appointment with the doctor or mental-health professional, just once, so you can share your observations and get advice on how best to help.

ASK FOR HELP FOR YOURSELF. See a therapist to discuss how you are doing and to get help problem solving. Or contact organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness to find information on caretaking or support groups.

ENLIST OTHERS. Who else loves this person and can see the changes in their behavior? Perhaps a sibling, parent, adult child or religious leader can help you break through.

LEVERAGE YOUR LOVE. Ask the person to get help for your sake. “If your loved one will not get help, you will not win on the strength of your argument,” says Xavier Amador, a clinical psychologist and director of the LEAP Institute. “You will win on the strength of your relationship.”
In addition to the psychological reasons that lead a person to deny his own mental illness, there may be a physiological one, as well. Anosognosia, an impairment of the frontal lobe of the brain, which governs self awareness, leaves a person with an inability to understand that he is sick.
Dr. Amador, who pioneered research into this syndrome 20 years ago, says it appears in about 50% of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Experts believe that similar damage sometimes occurs in people with clinical depression, although they are just beginning to research this.
At the LEAP Institute, they teach mental-health professionals and family members how to build enough trust with the mentally ill person that he will follow advice even if he won’t admit to being sick. LEAP is an acronym for listen reflectively, empathize strategically, agree on common ground and partner on shared goals.
“It’s the difference between boxing and judo, says Dr. Amador. “In boxing you throw a punch and the person blocks you. In judo, a person throws the punch and you take that punch and use their own resistance to move them where you want them.”
Sometimes loved ones are able to help. Renee Rosolino, 44, a residential appraiser in Fraser, Mich., says she is sorry she waited so long to listen to her family.
They expressed concerns about her behavior 14 years ago, when she first started showing signs of bipolar disorder. At the time, she felt judged when her husband, parents and sisters told her that her personality had changed completely in six months. She stopped eating and sleeping, cried a lot and yelled at family members, and began pulling away from everything from social activities to church.
Repeatedly, her husband tried to talk to her about her behavior, but she insisted she was fine. He even enlisted Ms. Rosolino’s sister to help. After dinner one night, they told her they were worried that she was depressed because she was sad, stressed and always on edge. Ms. Rosolino got mad and “shut down the conversation,” she says.
In addition to being angry, Ms. Rosolino says she was terrified. When she was a child, Ms. Rosolino’s father, an assistant vice president at a bank, had a mental breakdown and was taken to a psychiatric hospital in the middle of the night. “I never understood what happened to my father,” she says. “And I had it in my head that if I went to talk to someone this would happen to me, to my children. I didn’t want my kids to have those same feelings.”
Ms. Rosolino’s husband eventually broke through to her by asking her to speak to their pastor, pleading with her to do it for him and their children. “He said, ‘It’s OK. I am not going to leave you. I need you. Our kids need you,'” she says.
During her talk with the pastor, she broke down and told him about the pressures she felt as a mom—one of her children is autistic—and her irritation at feeling judged by her family. He told her that family members were worried about her and asked her to see a psychiatrist, just once, to set their minds at ease.
She agreed and started seeing the psychiatrist once a week and taking anti-depressants. Still, she has been hospitalized several times, usually, she says, when she stops taking her medication. But she has been stable for several years and says she has the people in her life to thank.
“Out of love and respect for the pastor and my family, I said I’d make the phone call,” she says. “They made me feel safe.”
—Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at and follow her column at

Battle With Depression Leads to Mission to Help Others

No More Secrets Available on Amazon