WALKER, Mich. – By most accounts, Doug Meijer should have been on top of the world.
One of the richest people in Michigan, helping to oversee Meijer, the giant grocery retailer owned by his family, he had a picture-perfect life.
But keeping up appearances can be overwhelming, particularly when things aren’t as they seem.
The wheels came off in 2011. His marriage fell apart and he got divorced. His father, Fred Meijer — well-known in west Michigan and patriarch of the well-known family — died the day after Thanksgiving. Then Doug Meijer was diagnosed with cancer.
The events left him feeling sad, empty and trapped. He had had such feelings before, but not of this magnitude.
“I wasn’t happy. There was something missing,” Meijer said during a walk at Meijer headquarters outside of the western Michigan city of Grand Rapids. “I kept trying to talk myself out of being unhappy.”
Like millions of Americans, Meijer was diagnosed with depression. He eventually found the right treatment, and began the process of getting his life back on track.
Today, he’s in a better place, which is why he’s talking about his battle with depression in hopes it might motivate others suffering from mental illness to get help. He wants to change the conversation about mental illness and the stigma too often associated with it.
One in five Americans suffers from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health disorders.
The conversation has gotten attention as celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Prince William and Prince Harry have talked about their own mental health challenges.
But in corporate America, it’s not talked about, at least not in first person.
Meijer is a board member of the privately held firm while his brother Hank is executive chairman. The company includes 240 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Michigan has been home to advocates who’ve boldly talked about their own health struggles. NBA legend and Lansing native Magic Johnson talked about his HIV a generation ago, and former First Lady Betty Ford, who is from Grand Rapids, did the same for substance abuse and breast cancer.
Though it isn’t a role he aspired to, Doug Meijer is doing the same as he talks about his battle with depression. He knows how devastating it can be.
Besides the illness’ impact on individuals and families, the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that serious mental illness costs Americans $193.2 billion in annual lost earnings.
Meijer said there were times growing up he didn’t feel right and knew something was wrong. Back then, he didn’t know about depression, and doctors weren’t talking about it either. At his lowest moment in 2011, Meijer decided to change his life. It was a journey he can talk about today because he’s in a much better place. He’s happily remarried and he is optimistic about his battle with cancer.
He’s been working with i Understand, a Michigan nonprofit that was founded by Vonnie Woodrick, who lost her husband to suicide in 2003.
“If I don’t talk about it and if others don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t get better,” Meijer said.